7356 Indian Hill Rd.
Honor, MI 49682
Farmers: Walt, Sharon and two employees, plus a couple others, as needed.
Farm Animal: Russell and Ruby, our horses
Favorite Tool: Our Kabota ATV
Favorite Recipe: Asparagus Lasagna and Corn Casserole
Why do you love farming? Walt: It's just something I've always liked to do. Watering things, running equipment, being outside. I've always liked it since I was little. I remember planting watermelon seeds in the middle of my mother's garden! I loved growing tomatoes and potatoes and I love being up here in the woods, fishing, and hunting. I like being self-sufficient and independent. It's the way of life I know and the way of survival. Sharon: I grew up in a farmhouse and a farm is home to me. My grandpa had cattle and horses and I was totally bored if I wasn't outside with the animals on the farm. Farming is just a part of life to me.
What are some challenges? You have no control over the weather. Labor is a challenge, as crops are time-sensitive.
We go through 75-100 cords of wood each year to heat the greenhouses and our home. You have to be prepared for a year when you don't make any money. Many days you basically are running around putting out fires! You have to have a variety of things going on, so that if one crop doesn't do well, another one can fill in. We also have a sawmill, woodshop, and machine shop to earn a little money doing other things, too.
What's unique about your farm? The range of things that we do. Producing high quality foods is our number-one priority. We grow the very best produce that we can.
Advice to new farmers: You've got to like to work and work and work! There's not big money in farming.
What are you proud of about your farm? It's nice to hear people talking about your produce, telling you how good it is. People are really happy to get fresh stuff. We had a woman call us and tell us that her doctor told her to eat more eggs. She said, "I need your eggs! I can't eat the ones at the store!"
Old Fashioned Success
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
When Walt and Sharon Harris met at a football game in Frankfort, they realized their love for farming was mutual. Photo by John Russell.
Meeting Walt and Sharon Harris is like stepping back in time—not because they are old-fashioned, but because they have values and a way of doing business not often found these days.
Walt’s great grandfather lived in Benzie County in a log cabin that he built in 1901 on Harris Rd. between Platte Lake and Crystal Lake. As most people were in those days, he was “scratching out a living,” trying to provide for his family. Over the years, he purchased more land on the north shore of Crystal Lake.
His son, Walt’s grandfather, started farming the land in 1922. He grew vegetables, bottled and sold milk, and raised chickens and hay. Walt remembers hearing that they used to chop ice out of Crystal Lake and store it in an icehouse for the summer months. His grandpa used a team of horses to plow the fields until he could afford to purchase a brand-new tractor in 1928.
“He paid $800 cash for it!” says Walt.
When grandpa died, no one farmed for a time. Walt’s father got a job at General Motors and raised his family north of Flint.
But Walt kept recalling his visits up north and staying with his grandpa whenever he could, especially during the summer. He had loved life on the farm.
“I remember planting seeds anywhere I could. I was like Johnny Appleseed!” laughs Walt. “I was always interested in growing things.”
That’s why when he was old enough, he moved up north to the family land, where he was always happiest. One evening, he attended a football game in Frankfort, and met a gal from Beulah, named Sharon. The two realized they had a lot in common: They loved farming, and Sharon’s and Walt’s parents went to school together.
In fact, Sharon’s grandpa came to the area on a wagon train from out West, and her father was a foreman at Pet Milk, in Frankfort. Her mother grew up on a cotton farm in Arkansas, and her parents raised cattle, cherries, hay, and horses on their Beulah farm.
“Our parents told us that we met when we were babies,” laughs Walt. “but we don’t remember.”
Walt and Sharon got married in 1974 and bought their own land on Indian Hill Rd. in 1979. They raised cattle, hay, corn, oats, wheat, and some sweet corn. They also worked full-time jobs. Walt worked at Pet Milk and Sharon worked at H.W. Jencks, a division of Detroit Coil Company. Walt worked 3rd shift so that he could farm during the daylight hours.
Over time, he grew more and more sweet corn and vegetables, and eventually he got a job as a truck driver covering the 48 states. In the ‘90s, he added even more vegetables to his farm, including asparagus, and also decided to put up a farm stand.
“For years, people would stop and ask for corn, so I would put it out on a hay wagon. Each year we expanded it and put out more and more produce, but we couldn’t keep up with demand. We built a farm stand so we had room to leave more produce out for our customers,” says Walt.
During the winter months in northern Michigan, Walt often found he got bored. “Give me a few days of sitting around and I get bored and dream up another project.”
The Harris' also have a sawmill, woodshop, and machine shop to earn a little money doing other things. Photo by John Russell.
So one winter, seven years ago, Walt decided to build a greenhouse. He went to the University of Arizona and took a course about greenhouses to learn all he could. Then he came home, bought one, put it up, and started growing tomatoes.
“That really took off,” Walt recalls. “We sold the tomatoes to stores and also sold some at the farm stand. The tomatoes were good quality and vine-ripened, with good flavor. We had tomatoes from the first of June through September and we had to expand to keep up with customers at both!” Hoop House Head Start
Encouraged by that success, Walt put up a hoop house last summer to get a jump on the season for early veggies like squash, zucchini, early potatoes, and melon. His efforts paid off; he’s now able to have even more produce available throughout more of the year.
Walt also grows strawberries, blueberries, saskatoons, and raspberries on his farm, and allows customers to u-pick.
Walt and Sharon sell their products to Meijer’s, The Market Basket, Deering’s Market in Empire, Honor Family Market, Anderson’s Glen Arbor Market, The Leland Mercantile, NJ’s Grocery, Hansen’s, Mary’s Kitchen Port, Burritt’s Fresh Markets, Cherry Capital Foods, Good Harbor Grill, The Happy Hour, and Arts Tavern.
Already thinking about next season, Walt says he plans to grow more green beans this year.
“We hand harvest everything. Most customers want quality over price,” says Walt. “But markets come and go, so you have to remain flexible. It doesn’t do much to grow something you can’t sell, as input costs are tremendous.”
Their customers know that everything Walt and Sharon put on their stand is good quality produce. Their sweet corn and tomatoes have earned a reputation in the area and keep people coming back for more.
Though their products are enough to make you a regular customer, it’s who they are that makes you proud to support their business. A handshake with Walt and Sharon is something you can count on. They treat people not just as customers, but first and foremost, as neighbors.
Both were strongly influenced by their parents and grandparents.
“I think people would go back to the way things were. Farming makes you a stronger, healthier person,” says Sharon.
“Growing your own food tastes better and it’s healthier for you."