5691 N. M-88
Central Lake, MI 49622
Farmers: Ryan and Andrea, and their children: Winter (14), Isaiah (10), Maia (7), Jacob (5), and niece, Kendall (14).
Number of Employees: About 5 full-time paid employees, during the season and 6 working shares.
Farm Animals: April, Jersey milk cow and Sky, Australian Shepherd.
Products: Over 70 varieties of vegetables; strawberries, asparagus; pastured pork, and soon, pastured beef.
Growing Practices: Certified Organic, Pastured, non-GMO feed.
Favorite Tool: My 1951 Farmall Super A (cultivating tractor)
Favorite Recipe: Savory Roasted Root Medley
Why do you love farming? I love farming because it connects me to the larger picture, being a part of the natural system, the weather patterns, the way things grow according to rainfall and sunlight. With farming, I'm participating in all of that. Also— having to yield. We're not in control and farmers know that. We can control some things but there are many things we can't. Living with that reality is a challenge, but it's also exciting.
It's providing a way of life for our family that's close the earth and gives back to the community. We could've made a living doing a lot of things, but I don't know if those things are as satisfying. People are appreciative; that's really rewarding.
What's challenging about farming?
The main challenge is labor. Finding people that appreciate the work and are willing to work efficiently at the physically challenging jobs that involve heat, rain, etc. Also being able to pay a competitive wage is tough. I want workers to be content and satisfied. Work is very valuable.
Finding that balance, between the amount of work it takes and also being awesome parents! We want the kids to grow up loving the farm.
What are you proud of about your farm?Just the fact that we got here. It's been a long time and a lot of work to actually be here. Fifteen years ago, we would read about other growers. It's a work in progress. It's very gratifying. We're actually doing it; we are an organic agriculture presence!
What's unique about your products? I think we have some really good tasting food. This isn't uncommon for organic farmers. But it's gratifying when someone leaves a message on our answering machine saying, "I just had the best cantaloupe I've ever had in my life!"
What are your plans for the future? Mainly our plan is to do better at what we already do. There's s lot of room to grow in our ability to do a better job of what we're doing. You're always gonna work hard. But we want to be more balanced, more efficient.
We hope the kids might stay involved. Our oldest son will take on more responsibility next year and he's looking forward to that.
Living a Dream
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
The Romeyn's 20-acre farm feeds more than 150 families. Photo Courtesy of John Russell.
Ryan and Andrea Romeyn make me want to be a farmer.
When I hear them describe their decision to farm for a living and their life on Providence Farm in Central Lake, I feel a contagious kind of excitement. At the very least, it makes me want to buy my food from farmers like them.
For the past 14 years they’ve worked steadily toward their dream; today they are two of the most promising young farmers in northwest Lower Michigan.
The two met when they were teenagers on a summer vacation at Glen Lake. They saw each other there three summers in a row, and although they were from different towns--Ryan from Zeeland and Andrea from Muskegon--they stayed in touch with letters. “We both really liked each other,” Ryan remembers with a smile.
But they did not officially start dating until Andrea’s senior year at Michigan State University.
Andrea had earned a teaching degree from MSU and Ryan was studying photography when an opportunity for them to work together came along--at the Bay Area Adventure School in Traverse City. They both loved the outdoors and working with kids, so it was a great experience. They organized backpacking and hiking trips, and other outdoor educational activities for the students.
That spring, the couple took a trip down South to work on a Habitat for Humanity project in Tennessee. Afterwards they drove to the project’s headquarters, in Georgia, to meet founder Millard Fuller. While they were there they were invited to visit Koinonia Partners, the farm community where Millard became inspired to start Habitat. They spent some time at the Partners organic garden.
Something stirred deeply in Ryan’s heart about that garden.
“Maybe it was the fact that it was springtime in southern Georgia and we were in love, or the taste of the surprisingly sweet and crunchy turnip we shared in the orchard,” laughs Andrea. Whatever it was, Ryan felt it, too.
“That farm in Georgia really had an impact on me,” he says. “When we were driving back home to Michigan, I decided that I was going to have a garden that year. It was something I really felt inspired to do.”
“And I did—it wasn’t a big garden, but it was love at first site! I loved every part of it. It made me consider why I liked this so much, that maybe there was something to that. I decided I should learn more about this, to see if continuing to grow food was something I’d like to do as a career.”
In that same garden, later that same summer, Ryan proposed to Andrea--not with just a ring, but a pair of walking sandals--asking her to walk through life’s journey with him. Of course, she said yes!
A Leap of Faith
The next summer, Ryan interned with Dave and Pat VanDyke, at Sky View Farm, in Maple City. It was an exciting time: They had just had their first child, Winter, and they were working on a farm at last. Ryan was also baking at night at Stone House Bread, in Leland, to provide for his growing family. The both loved what they were doing, but knew that if Ryan wanted to farm for a living, he would need to learn a lot more.
The following January, they took a big leap of faith, packed up their Honda Civic with their son and dog, and headed south, looking for organic CSA farms where Ryan could gain more experience. “Our families were freaking out,” says Andrea, “we had very little money and we didn’t know exactly where we were headed.” But Ryan’s passion made it worth the risk.
Ryan Romeyn learned carpentry to help him build the farm.
“I’ve always believed that if you do what you love for a living, there’s no way you can’t be successful at it,” says Andrea.
After visiting various farms, they ended up back at Koinonia Partners, in Georgia, where they interned for six months. Then they moved to North Carolina, where Ryan enrolled in Central Carolina Community College to earn a certificate in sustainable agriculture. The program impressed them because farmers taught the classes and students received over 400 hours of hands-on training.
So Andrea taught at a nearby middle school while Ryan completed the certificate and internship, sometimes bringing Winter along to his classes!
By the time Ryan finished his training the couple was expecting their second child. They decided to move back to Michigan to be closer to family. Ryan worked for his brother-in-law, learning carpentry for two years.
“I wanted to learn carpentry skills for the farm and to have a second career option for the winter months,” he says.
An Amazing Opportunity
In 2002, Ryan became farm manager at Wagbo Peace Center, in East Jordan. At last—an opportunity to use the skills he had learned! They moved north and worked there for four years, managing the farm and CSA shares, including raising pastured pork.
But in 2006, the farm board decided to transition to an all-volunteer staff. So Ryan began leasing land on the property and used it to start his own business. It worked: Calling it Providence Farm at Wagbo Peace Center, the two expanded the operation each year and attracted a loyal group of shareholders.
“At that point, we had been looking to purchase some land of our own,” recalls Ryan. “One of our CSA customers had property that she was interested in selling to us. It was a very desirable spot, on the tip of Torch Lake, a mile from Eastport—20 acres of very tillable, sandy loam ground.”
That was an amazing opportunity and blessing that Ryan and Andrea will always feel grateful for.
“It took 14 years of moving to different states, always desiring to have our own farm, and it took a long time to pay off student loans. We were able to get a beginning farmer loan from the Farm Service Agency, but our CSA customer really helped us out, as she sold us the land below the market value. That helped us have such a desirable location. It’s a beautiful spot.”
So Providence Farm found its home in Central Lake, and Ryan and Andrea settled on their land, growing their business each year.
During the course of the growing season, they now have over 150 CSA members. They sell additional produce at the Elk Rapids, Traverse City, Boyne City, and Charlevoix farmers markets and also at Grain Train Natural Foods Market, in Petoskey, and Oryana Natural Foods Market, in Traverse City. They grow over 70 varieties of vegetables, as well as strawberries and pastured pork. They also just began raising Belted Galloway cattle, which will be available to customers in the future.
Another recent milestone: Providence Farm produce and strawberries are now certified organic.
“I’ve never done anything different.” says Ryan. “From that first garden, I’ve always followed organic practices. I’ve never used an herbicide or pesticide that was non-organic. I don’t know any better! I don’t want to do anything unhealthy for the soil or anything else.”
The co-ops encouraged them to get organic certification; as the markets got more competitive, they saw the value of official certification. “We wanted something to back up our work,” says Ryan.
“Our motto is: Increasing the health of northern Michigan. That’s what we’re doing--growing nutritious food that benefits the health of people. Soil health and people health. Customers have told us, ‘Ever since I joined your CSA, I’ve never been eating healthier. My cholesterol went down.’ It’s really cool to be a part of business that does that.”
This coming season will be their fifth at Central Lake. Ryan recently built their house, using those carpentry skills. They live there with their four children and their niece.
“It’s incredible,” says Andrea. “We’re so thrilled! When you work so hard for something for so long, it’s harder to take it for granted.”
“I took the turtle route,” laughs Ryan. “It took many years of learning and working towards this. It’s pretty cool and it feels good. It’s what I imagined.”
“It’s incredible the way it’s all unfolded. This has been a huge journey of faith,” say Andrea.
One might say, a journey of providence.