8576 Chief Rd.
Kaleva, MI 49645
Employees: Calvin Lutz II, Calvin Lutz III, Mark Coe, Mike Feliczak, Ralph Smith and 45 seasonal employees.
Favorite Equipment: Our greenhouse
Farm Dog: Oscar the Labradoodle
Favorite Recipe: Grilled asparagus with Italian dressing. Or take a large zucchini, hollow it out, fill it with fresh vegetables, sausage, garlic and olive oil, wrap it in foil and grill.
What do you love about farming? I was in the retail business for 25 years and that was very demanding. I love educating people about the taste of different varieties. I like to compare them side-by-side, taste-by-taste.
What are some challenges? We grow a diverse amount of products, so you have to know a lot!
What's unique about your products? We have so many different products and we have a high standard of quality. We sell to farmers markets, grocery stores, as well as processors, so I see us as a small, medium and large farm, all at once.
What are you proud of about your farm? We have a good rapport with other farmers in the area. I've worked hard to draw the farmers together and worked to open the door so we can work together.
Hobbies: Ice fishing, skiing, and snowmobiling
The Power of Friendship
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Mark Coe loves his job at Calvin Lutz Farm in Kaleva. Photo by John Russell.
Sometimes, when someone’s life changes, friends end up helping in unexpected ways.
Take Mark Coe: He was a professional photographer for decades, but seven years ago he sold his Mt. Pleasant camera shop and portrait studio and returned to his northern Michigan hometown of Kaleva.
“When the photo industry made the transition to digital, I saw an industry go away and I had to make a change in career,” he explains. He and his wife decided to buy a small garden center.
“I was hesitant moving back at first,” said Mark. “But I also saw this as a great opportunity for a new career and I liked the idea of being back home, so I could help out my mother.”
Taking care of his mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, meant driving past the farm owned by his old friend Calvin Lutz.
And that’s when the unexpected help showed up, too: Calvin asked Mark if he would be interested in helping him retail Christmas trees at their tree lots in Detroit and Lansing. Mark enjoyed the opportunity to help his friend and soon found that he excelled at sales and marketing.
In fact Mark was so good that, after the season was over, Calvin offered him a full-time job. He and his wife sold the garden center and moved north, to Kaleva.
Mark had worked on a few farms in high school, but there was a lot to learn, especially since Calvin was eager to give him plenty of responsibility for managing the very large operation—and allow him to pursue a brand new market—selling fresh produce to local school cafeterias.
“A few years ago, I didn’t know the difference between a pesticide and a fungicide,” laughs Mark.
Calvin Lutz and his father. Photo by John Russell.
He attended classes to learn more about farming and growing fruit and vegetables and he gained hands-on experience from Calvin. As he learned, he began helping with an experimental planting of cherry and peach trees and he also began attending farmers markets and focusing on fresh market sales and marketing for the farm.
One of Mark’s first projects was selling peaches to the Chicago public schools. A local food distributor who was looking for a large quantity of peaches contacted him. Mark knew they had plenty of peaches that would be perfect for this, as most of the smaller peaches were often tossed to the ground during harvest.
“The small ones were the perfect size for the kids,” says Mark.
That year they sold 600 bushels to the Chicago Public Schools. One of his favorite images is that of seeing the photos of the children eating the peaches at lunchtime.
Some of the kids had never eaten a peach before. Some thought peach was a color, not a fruit and some had never held a fuzzy peach before. It’s was pretty cool to see them enjoying the fruit from our farm!”
Since then, Mark’s become a major proponent of farm to school marketing. He helped get farm-to-school going in Manistee and started delivering Calvin’s products to the Onekama, Kaleva Norman Dixon, Bear Lake and Manistee Public Schools, too.
Mark is now involved with Michigan State University, too, helping to educate the educators and facilitate meetings with school food service director.
“Many schools have never tracked the amount of produce they used, so I’ve worked to help them translate weights and measures,’ he says. “It helps to be clear about the amounts they need and to get product commitments, as it helps farmers know how much to grow.”
Mark is proud to be the operations and marketing manager for a farm that he’s known all his life. The Calvin Lutz Farm was founded in 1895 by Calvin’s great grandfather, Matthew, who came to America from Germany. He originally raised cattle until his son took over the business and transitioned the farm to fruit, vegetables, and Christmas trees. He named the place Fruit Haven Nursery.
When son Calvin graduated from Michigan State University, he helped manage the nursery and started his own Calvin Lutz Farms.
Today Calvin owns 1,975 acres of land—and one of the most diverse and successful operations in the region. Each year the growing season begins with asparagus, followed by strawberries, cherries, pickles, peaches, garden vegetables, sweet corn, pumpkins and squash, ending with Christmas trees.
We pick 60-80,000 lbs. of asparagus every week for six weeks!” says Mark. “And we pick between 200 and 400 flats of strawberries every day for about 20 days each spring.”
Mark truly enjoys his partnership in Calvin’s farm.
“I’m so proud that Calvin gave me the opportunity to come back here and make a living six miles from Lake Michigan and the trout streams I love!” says Mark. “I can see the growth potential of our farm. It’s so important what we’re doing, getting nutritious, local food to the kids in the schools. I know that my own son will reap the benefits of all this, as well as all the kids in the area.”
Now that we’re growing and distributing our local produce, the next step is to work on processing and storing our fresh products, so schools can get local products year round.”
“The fresh movement has created an awareness in gardens, canning, eating, and greenhouses. I get satisfaction out of promoting these things, knowing that maybe we can create more jobs locally."