I love barns. I would visit and photograph every one of them I came across, if time allowed it. One of my goals in life is to own a barn, even though I have a brown thumb. When my wife contacted area musician Charlie Millard to schedule an interview for a future article, and he told her that he was playing at a harvest festival in a Cross Village barn, I needed no persuading to attend. “Your husband may want to do an article on Bliss Gardens too,” Charlie texted my wife. She agreed.
Never one to miss an opportunity for a potential story, I visited the Bliss Gardens Farm website. The farm itself looked lovely, especially their massive barn. What was so intriguing, however, was the farm’s goals of community supported, biodynamic and organic agriculture, wildcrafting, and providing a community kitchen to the people of Northern Emmet County. I am trying, and usually failing, to eat healthier. So I relished the opportunity to learn more about an ecological, organic and sustainable farm in Northern Michigan. I sent the owners of the farm an email, asking for an interview.
Mary & Craig Rapin were co-owners of Prescription Services Pharmacy at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey before establishing Bliss Gardens Farm. As pharmacists, they learned first hand the effects poor lifestyle and nutrition had on people’s health. They established the 45-acre farm with the goal of helping those in lower income brackets eat better. In the years since, they have improved the soil, finished the barn, installed a windmill, and opened a fully commercial community kitchen.
I was contacted by Mary & Craig’s daughter Katherine on a chilly Saturday morning, and she invited me to join a tour of the farm she had planned for later in the day. I enthusiastically accepted.
A person with a passion for something is unforgettable. Katherine is unforgettable. A journalism student at Kalamazoo College, she spends her summers in Emmet County working on her parents’ farm. It is evident in her knowledge of farming and crops, her excitement about current and future community events and programs at the farm, and her infectious joy as she walks the farm grounds that she is love with this place.
I joined Katherine as she was giving a tour of Bliss Gardens to a group of students from Muskegon who have plans on starting a community garden. After walking us through the spacious barn and greenhouse, she lead us out to the farm’s garden.
Bliss Gardens Farm is a Wonderland of agriculture. Row after row of fresh fruit, herbs, medicinal flowers, and vegetables grow in a wide arch. Katherine showed us flowers, onions, and garlic drying in the barn and greenhouse, massive sunflowers, artichokes, tomatillos, popcorn, Brussels sprouts, a striped radish, purple peppers, and a paradise of other crops. She explained to us the use of a hoop house; a series of metal ‘hoops’ covered with greenhouse plastic, and how it extends the growing season of certain crops.
Bliss Gardens Farm believes in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the direct relationship between consumers and producers of farm products. Community members support the farm financially and through volunteer work for a share of the farm bounty. According to their website, Bliss Gardens Farm grows over one hundred and fifty varieties of thirty types of fruits and vegetables. Each share of produce provides a week supply of farm fresh seasonal produce.
Once the students left, Katherine continued the tour of the farm for me. She led me into the woods, past the farm’s outhouse – used to conserve valuable water. Hidden among the pine and hardwoods are two platform tents, used by interns or guests. Wildcrafting, or foraging, of wild- grown medicinal plants, mushrooms, herbs, and fruits is conducted in the forests surrounding the farm.
Katherine then escorted me into the farm’s commercial kitchen. The kitchen is fully licensed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The Rapins hope to utilize the kitchen as an incubator, a place where locals can manufacture food products to be sold at local stores and farm markets. The kitchen is also host to cooking and canning classes and can be utilized by caterers for private events and weddings held in the loft of the barn.
Oh yeah! The loft in the barn!
I learned about Bliss Gardens Farm because Charlie Millard was playing there that night. The farm was hosting a Harvest Potluck Dinner and Barn Dance, so I returned home. My kids helped me bake an apple & pear crisp for the party, although neither was going to attend. I returned to the farm with my wife just as the square dancing was getting underway.
This loft is a hidden gem in Northern Michigan. Upstairs in a true barn, on a working farm. Rustic. Spacious. Great acoustics. A family atmosphere. The loft is an ideal community space or hall for private parties and weddings.
When I returned home, after Katherine’s tour of the farm, I told my wife that Bliss Gardens Farm’s story could not be told in one article. The story of the farm is not in the barn or the bounty of produce. It is not in the pictures of people square dancing or teenagers from Muskegon tasting celery. The story of Bliss Gardens Farm is one of community, and is still evolving. It is on the long-term effect the farm will have on the people of Cross Village and Northern Emmet County. It is on the growth of the farm’s CSA program and classes.
Bliss Gardens Farms & Community Kitchen is located southeast of Cross Village. For more information you can visit their website: blissgardens.wordpress.com. To contact the farm, you can email Mary Rapin at firstname.lastname@example.org.