The May Farm
904 Adams Rd.
Farmers: Paul, Sharron and Avery
Products: Pastured beef, lamb, pork, eggs, chicken, sausages; dairy goat sales and boarding.
Production: We sell up to 2,000 dozen eggs a year and 30 dozen eggs a week in Benzie County schools. Besides eggs, we also raise a dozen or more beef, sheep, pigs and 750-1000 broiler chickens each pasture season.
Favorite Tool: Our cows, sheep, goats, chickens and pigs do all the work of farm equipment.
Favorite Farm Animal: Betty, the goat, who just turned 16 years old.
Favorite Recipe: Shepherd's Pie; Rosemary and Local Cherry Wine-Glazed Lamb Roast.
Why do you love farming?
Living and working with the seasons, being connected to nature and the place we live. The positive interaction and appreciation from people in our community and the thanks we receive. We love the superior quality of what we produce. It tastes so much better— it's like a whole different product. The animals are happy, the land is healthy. There's a whole lot of goodness going into it and you can taste it.
What's challenging about farming?
The Hawks! Also, being too far ahead of the curve. A curious, interested few truly understand the type of farming we're doing, although that is starting to change. Artificially cheap food prices due to subsidies are misleading.
What are you proud of about your farm?We're proud of our son's health—from the good food he's been raised on, he's strong and has a lot of stamina. We're also proud of the fact that we still don't own a tractor. We're putting more carbon in than we're taking out.
Future Plans: We'd like to develop a profitable seasonal micro-enterprise with minimal start up costs and inputs. If it works, it can be used as a template for helping a young farmer get started. We're mission-driven. We'd like to create livelihoods from stewarding the land well.
Sustainability at Work
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Sharron and Paul May's farm is practically next door to where Paul grew up.
A short drive from Crystal Lake and around a bend made by the Betsie River on Adams Road in Frankfort, is a hidden gem. At first glance, it seems like a small farm with a few pigs and chickens. But it is so much more: it is a living, breathing example of sustainability at work.
Paul and Sharron May have never been "just farmers." They are, in fact, living a way a life that is driven by a profound personal value and desire—to leave their little corner of the Earth a better place than they found it.
Paul was born in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., where his grandparents were dairy farmers. When he was in the second grade, he and his parents moved to Michigan, and Paul grew up in Frankfort, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
He worked in radio broadcasting for a number of years, and then in the food service industry. He also worked in Alaska as an Iditarod sled-dog handler, training the puppies.
Why did he come back to Michigan?
“The lake effect,” he says proudly. “It’s so marvelous here.”
Sharron, on the other hand, grew up down South, in New Orleans. Although she’s not from a farm, it was literally in her blood. Her ancestors were plantation owners who raised sugar cane. And the vibrant food culture that fueled New Orleans’ economy affected her, too, and she developed her own strong interest in agriculture. She recalls hearing about industrial farming and chemicals in eighth grade and wanting to do something about it.
When she was in her twenties, Sharron decided to go on an adventure before embarking on her professional career. Responding to a newspaper ad, she headed north, to Frankfort, to work there for the summer. And that’s when she met Paul May.
After that memorable summer she headed back to New Orleans, while Paul moved to Alaska. They were pen pals for six years, then Paul moved back to Michigan. Sharron’s career—consulting with salons and traveling extensively—was based in New Orleans, but Paul’s heart was rooted in northern Michigan. Paul’s persistence finally convinced Sharron to come back up north and her company transferred her to Grand Rapids.
They married and eventually purchased a home and eight acres in Frankfort, practically next door to where Paul grew up. Paul started his own painting business and Sharron kept working for Aveda Corporation until she opened Beyond Salon Beauty & Wellness, at their home, in 1996.
Sharron and Paul May's son, Avery, tends to the chickens.
A Meaningful Livelihood
Bringing up their son, Avery, got them thinking about farming again: Potlucks and school lunches with Waldorf School parents overflowed with homegrown foods of all sorts, and, as Paul says, “It made me want to grow my own tomatoes and milk my own goats.”
Soon, the May Farm, and a way to have a meaningful livelihood began taking shape. The couple started raising a few goats and laying hens, selling their first eggs to East Shore Market and the Phoenix Café in Beulah. They got involved with the farm to school program at the same school Paul attended as a child, wholesaling their eggs for its new breakfast program.
“That’s our community service,” says Sharron. “We could get the retail price on every egg we produce, but we feel it’s important that kids eat a good breakfast of real food.”
During summer vacation, their eggs went to The Inn at Watervale. Sharron’s salon customers also helped them build a large, loyal customer base.
The farm, and demand for its products, grew incrementally. When their son got involved with 4-H, they started breeding sheep, and they discovered an entirely new, and strong market. They also became intrigued with Joel Salatin’s innovative approach to multi-species, rotational grazing, attending a training at his infamous Polyface Farm.
In 2010, they negotiated a unique lease agreement with a neighbor to try out the Salatin solution in a “pilot pasture,” on the corner of Lobb and Graves Road. They began rotationally grazing pastured beef, lamb, pork, and poultry, and selling their livestock on a custom basis, in whole or fractional shares, and to select local retail establishments.
Today the year-round operation at 904 Adams Rd. features dairy goats and laying hens, as well as a farm stand offering pastured meats and eggs. And, of course, there’s the salon! Sharron admits that, while she was initially skeptical, “Somehow we’ve managed to integrate these two unlikely enterprises.”
Rambling around their farm, you will also find a poly-culture of perennial vegetables, nuts, and fruits—apples, hazelnuts, berries, rhubarb, and asparagus—that come back year after year. In 2010 Sharron earned certification in Permaculture Design and was voted Benzie County’s Master Gardener of the Year. Paul and Sharron make their own compost, too.
“The outputs for one thing become the inputs for the next, or we share or trade the surplus,” says Sharron. “We’re creating our own economy.”
The Mays recently acquired the property that Paul grew up on; now there’s even more room to grow.
“We don’t want to let any one thing dominate,” she says. “It’s a balancing act, but there are lots of possibilities, from diversifying more to mentoring a new farmer.”
Paul and Sharron have clearly found their calling.
“We just want to raise food for our family and community in the most sustainable way possible,” she says. “That means letting the land dictate what happens, letting Agriculture become an ecological solution, not a problem.”