Rice Centennial Farm
6511 Mick Rd.
Benzonia, MI 49616
Farmer: Randy Rice
Products: Ground beef, hot dogs, brats, chorizo, steaks, etc.
Season: Year round.
Favorite equipment: My tractor and round baler. And my bulldozer, loader.
Some favorite cow names: Licorice, Cara, Ebony, Elsa, and Sunny.
Why do you love farming? I like it, being outside. It's in my blood. You're able to see things grow, work with your hands. You get to be outside and enjoy it.
What are some challenges?
Machinery. Our machinery is based on 1965 technology and needs updating! Also, it's challenging how small the profit is. It's hard to make ends meet, after all the expenses. It's a constant struggle. Prices may be higher than some want to pay, but people don't understand the inputs are more expensive when you have a small operation. There's a disconnect about what it takes to get food from the farm to the plate.
What's unique about your products? It's a better quality product, better tasting. People say, "It tastes like my grandpas meat, back on the farm." It's fresh, no artificial flavors or fillers, just good tasting meat. No hormones or antibiotics.
Favorite recipe: Slow-roasted chuck roast with mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans. That's my favorite comfort food. And Swiss steak.
Advice to new farmers: If you're starting out, you have to be 110% committed to that life. Be sure it's something you want to do. There's a huge financial and family commitment. You have to love what you do. It's not a 9 to 5 job with a paycheck at the end.
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Randy and Lesa Rice are Benzie County natives.
“I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared this land. When I was five I walked the fence, while grandpa held my hand.” —John Mellencamp
Whenever Randy Rice hears those lyrics he thinks about his father and his grandfather, who once farmed the land he now calls home.
“It’s really something to be able to turn the same fields that my father and grandfather once did,” he says. “We’ve been farming these fields for 106 years. We’ve been here awhile! I have many happy memories of working on our farm, just me and my father.”
For Randy, owner of Rice Centennial Farm, in Benzonia, family is what it’s all about.
His great-great grandfather was a farmer in Ireland before immigrating to Ontario, Canada many years ago.
He and his children did some farming there before a good friend from the Smeltzer family encouraged them to move west to Benzonia, Mich. In 1905, Randy’s great grandfather, Matthew Rice, purchased land on Mick Rd. and US-31 in Benzonia, and they raised dairy cows and fruit there.
When Randy’s grandfather took over, he decided to instead raise beef cattle, and Randy has continued that tradition ever since. Both his great grandfather and grandfather farmed until the day they died. Randy’s father, Roy farmed until 1995, when he decided to retire.
At that time, Randy didn’t have an interest in taking over the family farm. He felt ready to take on the world, and he worked with a marine construction company as a tugboat captain on the Great Lakes for many years, which he really enjoyed. So for a time, the family farm was idle.
Soon, Captain Rice married his wife, Lesa, who also grew up in Benzonia, and they built a house near his father’s farm. When their two children came along, Randy didn’t like being away on the boat very much and didn’t want to miss the kids growing up.
“I placed a higher value on that than money,” says Randy.
So, seven years ago, he decided that he would farm while his wife, Lesa, worked for Head Start, as she had for many years. For a time, Randy also continued working as a tugboat captain, while he built up the profits on his farm so he could justify a transition.
He started with just two cows; he raised them and sold them to individuals. Then he bought more; eventually he bought a bull so he could start breeding.
His business grew, and he was able to sell more beef to individual customers. He was listed in the Michigan Land Use Institute’s very first Taste the Local Difference guide. He eventually started selling his beef to local schools. St. Francis Catholic School, in Traverse City, was the first to contact him about purchasing his meat, and the first to actually place an order.
This cute little heifer is also a Benzie County native.
Soon, he got connected with Renee DeWindt, the food service director for Benzie County Public Schools. Renee was instrumental in getting other schools in Benzie County to also purchase his meat, too, and today a number of local schools place orders every month for ground beef, hot dogs, and stew meat.
Before long Randy was selling his meat to schools in Onekama, Bear Lake, Northport, and, in Kaleva, the Norman Dixon school.
He smiles as he shares his favorite story.
“There was one boy that loved eating our hot dogs at Crystal Lake Elementary,” he says, “and when he went on to sixth grade at Platte River, he noticed the hot dogs weren’t as good. He complained to his mother that they weren’t like the local ones he used to get at Crystal Lake. Well, it turns out that his mom was on the school board and decided to get involved and soon, Platte River was also serving my hot dogs!”
Getting children good food at school is a passion for Randy.
“Kids may not get a chance to eat a healthy meal at home, so what they eat at school should be the best they can get. Good nutrition helps them learn.”
Randy has been adept at meeting marketing challenges, too. For example, since the schools only wanted certain cuts of meat, Randy built up a surplus of steaks and other cuts of meat. So he started contacting restaurants to see if they might be interested in purchasing those cuts.
He met with several, gave them samples and today, that part of his business has really taken off. He now sells his meat to Poppycock’s, Arcadia Bluffs, Camp Arcadia, Phil’s on Front, The Cooks’ House, Amical, Apache Trout Grill, Blu, Seven Monks, and Bay Leaf, as well as to the Market Basket, in Beulah.
He sells ground beef, hot dogs, brats, chorizo, steaks, and other cuts, and he still sells to individuals by request.
While Randy manages the entire operation by himself, he knows he couldn’t do it without Lesa. “If I wasn’t for her encouraging me to do this and having this lifestyle, I couldn’t do it. It’s a true partnership. Having the outside income that she earns enables us to do this,” he says.
“Farming is a gamble,” he observes. “Lesa and I have been to Las Vegas a few times, but we don’t go there to gamble and people can’t figure that out. I tell them, ‘I don’t gamble at the casino, because I gamble every day. Is it gonna rain or snow? Will the tractor work today? Will I make ends meet?’ It’s never a guarantee.”
He would like to expand his operation someday; time will tell if his children will continue the family tradition of farming.
Randy, for one, is glad that, after a career on a tugboat, he did return to the land he loves.
“I’m proud that this farm has been in my family so long. It’s an honor to be able to continue that tradition to this day."