Traverse City News and Events

Changes Coming To Iconic Local Farms

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 10, 2019

Industry challenges, financial pressures, and personal circumstances are bringing changes to several local iconic farms, including Christmas Cove Farm, Shetler Family Dairy, and Fouch Orchards.

John and Phyllis Kilcherman, long-time owners of the four-generation Christmas Cove Farm in Northport, have listed their orchard on the market. The listing price is $525,000 and includes 66 acres of farmland featuring over 200 varieties of apples – many of which are rare, antique, and/or heirloom varieties – as well as cherry trees, a pond, and hardwood forest. The sale does not include the Kilcherman farm homestead, where the family still lives, nor the garage/market building or John Kilcherman’s vast collection of more than 10,000 vintage pop bottles.

Daughter Maureen Mawby explains her parents – who are in their late eighties – are both facing health challenges and can no longer keep up with the demanding farm work. She says the couple’s dream is that someone will take over the farming operation and continue it how it is today. The Kilchermans don’t plan at this time to open their market or sell cider or apples this fall, but that could change if the family finds an immediate buyer, says Mawby.

“It’s a wonderful time for someone to buy it, because my father is around still and could help them find all the apples and take care of them,” she says. “The biggest blessing to them would be that someone would continue it. It’s been a very financially viable business.”

Realtor Erica Slater Marshall of Real Estate One, which represents the listing, says she has already fielded inquiries from multiple interested buyers. “We’ve had interest from a few cider producers in the area, and some folks who want to get into farming,” she says. “(The Kilchermans) are willing to work with someone to help them move forward and work the land. So far it’s been good…we’re hoping it moves along and we have a sale soon.”

Shetler Family Dairy is also preparing to close its doors after forty years in operation in Kalkaska and widespread distribution of the family’s milk and other dairy products throughout northern Michigan. A statement released by the family Thursday indicated it’s been “an incredibly difficult fourteen months for the Shetler family after the sudden loss of our mother, Sally, last May 2018, and then again with the sudden loss of our father, Farmer George, this past January 2019.” The statement continued that plans had already been underway prior to the owners’ deaths to strike a deal with Farmers’ Creamery in Mio, Michigan, which is purchasing all of Shetler Family Dairy’s bottling equipment, recipes, processes, animals, and the company slogan.

The last day the Shetler Family Dairy store will be open to the public is Saturday, August 17, according to the family statement. As Farmers’ Creamery puts the finishing touches on a new facility and works to transfer Shetler’s assets over, Shetler will “continue to put high-quality milk into Shetler bottles and deliver weekly to your favorite stores until they (Farmers’ Creamery) receive final licensing approval on their end and are ready to go,” according to the statement. “We anticipate a final shutdown in either late August or September, and it is our intention to minimize any disruption to availability of milk.”

The family encouraged customers to buy Farmers’ Creamery products going forward. “They were hand-selected by Farmer George to carry on the tradition he created of bottling a high-quality, healthy product in a very special way,” the statement reads. Oryana Community Co-op in Traverse City, a long-time purveyor of Shetler’s products, also blessed the transition in a statement Friday.

“While the product will be sold under a different name, it will be made with milk from the same grass-fed cows, processed on the same equipment, to the same specifications, and stocked in the same place on Oryana’s shelves; in short, the same milk in a different (glass) bottle,” the organization wrote. “Thank you Shetler family for the many years of providing our community with superior products and for being pivotal in the local food movement.”

Finally, plummeting cherry prices are hitting several local farmers hard, including the Fouch family of Fouch Orchards. The family announced on Facebook this week that they are selling off farmland after foreign imported cherries – primarily from Turkey – have flooded the market and undercut Michigan farmers. As previously reported in The Ticker, the Turkish government heavily subsidizes its cherry growers, enabling them to sell in the U.S. market far below production costs. U.S. cherry prices have dipped from 25 cents per pound in 2014 to between 13 and 15 cents per pound last year; the break-even point is around 22 cents per pound, meaning most domestic cherry growers lost money on every pound of cherries they produced in 2018 – a trend that has continued in 2019.

“Because of government-subsidized imports and our "leadership" at the C.I.A.B. (Cherry Industry Administrative Board), we find ourselves in a multi-year depressed price on tart cherries,” Raymond Fouch wrote on Facebook announcing the sale of some of his family orchards. “I can't hang on anymore and am selling property!”

According to the family’s post, Fouch Orchards still has 80,000 pounds of cherries hanging on trees that will be shaken and dumped on the ground – a process that started Friday. The family invited community members to come out to their farm on Center Road in Old Mission Peninsula with buckets to take away free cherries before they go to waste.

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