11373 US 31
Williamsburg, MI 49690
Farmers: Mary, Vince, Versil, and Jane, and three or four more in the summer.
Season: Every day from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving, and then weekends until mid-December.
Favorite Recipe: Canned peaches and peach jam. And her fun recipe: Strawberry Margarita Jelly.
Favorite Tool: Her rolling pin!
What do you love about farming?
What isn't there to love about it? The soil gets in your blood. I love being out in the field, where it's peaceful and quiet and you can hear the birds. And I love being in the market, talking to customers, seeing the kids grow up. I love it. I've got the best of both worlds!
What are some challenges? Pleasing three different generations of the family! We all have a different way to do things, but we are making it work. It's really rewarding when you get the thumbs up from Grandpa!
What are your future plans? We always have plans! We like doing a little bit of everything.
What's unique about your products? Our farm is contained on 100 acres, all at this one location.
Local foods: Some people have commented that they're trying to spend $10 each week on local foods. We have a large clientele base; people drive from Empire just to buy our apple cider. Some come from Cadillac. They know the drive is worth it.
All in the Family
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Mary's customers keep coming back for more of her fresh-baked pies and canned goods.
Watching Mary Cooper at work in her busy farm market is like watching a bee at its beehive.
From May to mid-December, she’s a whirlwind—making pies and donuts; stocking her market with cherries, peaches, and apples; and helping customers.
Some have questions: “What are the best apples for making applesauce?” “If I come back tomorrow, will you have more of those delicious donuts?”
Others share news of the day: “Mary, have I got a story for you!”
“This is my fun time!” smiles Mary. She enjoys her customers as much as they enjoy her.
Mary’s parents, Versil and Jane White, bought this farm in 1958 and raised their three children there. It was just a quarter-mile down the road from her grandparent’s farm, south of Elk Rapids.
The couple originally planted mostly sour cherry trees on their 100 acres; as the years passed they added apples, peaches, and sweet cherries.
“I remember picking a lot of cherries as a child,” recalls Mary. “In those days everything was hand-picked, and we all sang together in the orchard. Those are good memories.”
“And we were always busy. You learned to never say you’re bored—or you’d be handed a hoe quicker than a wink!”
Gift baskets for any occasion can be filled with a variety of wonderful canned goods.
Mary’s parents ran the farm along with her brother, Vern, for many years. Her mom operated a farm stand out of the back of a 1968 GMC pick-up truck and, later, opened a small farm market building for their products on US-31.
As Mary grew up, she stayed involved with the farm and helped out when she could. She went away to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition and a master’s degree in business administration from Central Michigan University.
Though she loved growing up on the farm, she swore she’d never marry a farmer—and she didn’t! Her husband, Jim, has worked for many years at the Williamsburg post office. But they raised their three sons, Vince, Nick and Timothy, on the farm.
As Mary’s parents got older, Vern took over more responsibility on the farm. But, then, Vern unexpectedly passed away, in 1999, and her parents considered selling the farm. Mary and her oldest son, Vince, couldn’t bear to see that happen, however, and decided it was time to step in and keep the business going.
And since that time, she and Vince have stayed very busy! Three years ago they built a beautiful building for their market, with a full kitchen for Mary to make her pies and baked goods. Vince works full-time managing the farm and also as a volunteer firefighter. Her other two sons help out, too, when they’re home from college. And of course, Versil keeps a watchful eye on things.
Currently, the Whites grow 30 varieties of apples, nine varieties of cherries, several varieties of peaches, as well as nectarines, plums, squash, and 10 varieties of pumpkins. Mary makes baked and canned goods, including more than twenty varieties of pies. These are no ordinary pies—they are some of the best-tasting fresh-baked pies you’ll find anywhere!
They sell their products at their farm stand and at the Elk Rapids, Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, and Petoskey farmers markets. They also sell some of their canned goods to the Village Market in Elk Rapids.
And you’ll see them at special events like the Charlevoix Apple Festival.
Mary beams with pride at being able to continue the family tradition of farming. She also loves her connection to the community.
“I love hearing children tell their parents, ‘We have to stop at Farmer Whites!’ It’s part of their vacation.
They know me by name. People send me notes at Christmas.”
“And I’m proud of being able to work with my kids and watch them grow in all aspects of life. Vince was 19 when he started helping his grandpa and now he’s 29. It’s rewarding to watch that. Family farming is a heritage that’s going away, but not for us!"