Good Food Life: Brian Bates
Brian Bates, co-owner and operator of Bear Creek Organic Farm, is part of the Keynote Panel at the upcoming Michigan Good Food Summit. Here he gives an overview of his work as it relates to meeting the goals of the Good Food Charter.
What is your role at Bear Creek Organic Farm?
BB: Together with my wife, Anne Morningstar, I am the owner, operator, and brains behind Bear Creek Organic Farm.
How does Bear Creek Organic Farm work towards the goals of the Good Food Charter?
BB: Everything we do on our farm is focused on producing Good Food. We were our community's first certified organic farm, we practice what we preach and produce every crop with the utmost respect for the earth and for our worker health. We operate our farm profitably and are able to keep our prices affordable for all of our customers. Ninety eight percent of our customers believe that our prices are a fair value - we are very proud of that fact. At the Boyne City Farmer’s Market, we accept WIC, SNAP, DUFB, Sr. Project Fresh, and Hoophouses for Health to ensure that our products are available to all consumers. And while we are a small farm, we make sure that our products are not just available at the farmers market a couple days a week - we do almost 35% of our business with local grocery stores to ensure that our products are available 7 days a week, in a customer's traditional shopping channels.
What do you find most exciting or inspiring about what you are doing?
BB: Hands down the most exciting thing about what we are doing is just how much excitement, energy, and community surrounds our line of work. I can imagine there was a time when we as farmers were not celebrated in the community, but that is not the case in our experience! We just love how many different lives we touch and how our business transcends a wide array of social demographics on a daily basis. To be able to sell product to a phenomenal chef and an aspiring home cook who wants to make more food from scratch all in the same day is a really special thing. It's those customer interactions, wholesale and direct, that feed our soul and energize us week after week!
What opportunities do you see for moving towards the goals of the Michigan Good Food Charter and where do you see those leading in the next five to ten years?
BB: Well in five years, it will already be 2021, so I hope we see some serious progress before then! To not see opportunity in the Good Food Movement right now, one must have their eyes shut. Everywhere we look opportunities abound! Our biggest challenge is saying no - there are so many good ideas, good markets, and good business opportunities, sometimes we need to remember to focus on our farm business and not get swept up pursuing every opportunity we see. Personally, I think the biggest market that is wide open is in the retail sector. We have phenomenal products grown in Michigan and to see crops from other parts of the country and world on the grocery store shelf when our MI produce is in season is a crime. I also love the opportunity of retail because it helps connect you with the consumer. We are in a position where the vast majority of food is purchased at the grocery store. Farmers markets are great, but they hit such a small fraction of a household's overall food budget that we need to be pushing grocery store Good Food harder than ever - that's where the market is and therein lies the opportunity.
What is one thing you have learned through your experience with working towards the goals of the Good Food Charter that you would like to share with others?
BB: In addition to retail potential, another thing we have learned, that, frankly, surprised us was just how quickly we were able to start a farm and achieve profitability in under two years. There is a lot of talk about how tough it is to be a farmer, but I challenge all of my farmer friends and food colleagues to try to not accept that hardship as an absolute truth. Challenge that truth, question that reality, and treat farms like the entrepreneurial small businesses that they are! We live in a food era where the barriers to entry are lower than ever, the consumer demand for Good Food is off the charts, and the market can only grow as fast as producers can keep up
Hear more on Brian’s perspective on the Road to 2020 at the Michigan Good Food Summit, coming up on Friday, October 28!