How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

Our Owner and Uptown Farmers Market photographer Rick Baer and his wife Candace visited one of our market farms recently. Here's his report back from Los Rodriguez Farm in Eau Claire, MI, along with some beautiful photos in the slider above.

Candace and Stephanie

Stephanie Rodriguez's biggest enjoyment as a farmer is hearing about and seeing her customers enjoy the products she brings to market. She loves stories of how delicious her fruits and vegetables taste, as well as how people prepare and serve them. All of her hard work and long hours are rewarded with our enjoyment of her efforts (um, and the revenue generated).

Stephanie's father Carmen came to Michigan from Mexico as a 14-year old and learned agriculture there from his uncle and a neighboring farmer. Carmen and his wife Elsa started Los Rodriguez Farm in 2004. Today the farm has over 50 acres and is tended to by members of the family, some regular employees, and some seasonal workers.

Carmen is the cucumber king. Only he can care for the cukes and determine when they are ready for the market. He also ensures every bit of growing space in the hot houses is utilized. Careful where you walk — those are radishes growing in the aisles between rows of pepper plants!

Stephanie not only works long hours on the farm, she often drives the 2.5 hours to Chicago three or four times a week to sell at farmers markets. During winter, she plans what they will plant the next year and reads lots of seed catalogs. She is also overseeing the farm's conversion to being an organically certified producer.

Running a farm means running a business. Capital expenditure and operational decisions are constantly on Stephanie's mind. Buy more farm fields? Lease fields? Buy another tractor or truck? Invest in irrigation lines? Buy more wooden stakes (lots of stakes). Increase the number of bee hives. What crop mix should be planted to meet consumer demand. How can agricultural theft be minimized (yep, thieves roam farmland and steal crops). At Los Rodriguez, Stephanie is the Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, the VP of Research and Development, as well as the number one Sales Rep.

Los Rodriguez Farm uses three growing areas: hoop houses, fields and orchards.

Hoop houses are used for starting plants before the usual growing season, growing plants past the usual season, and for plants that don't grow outside in the Midwest (e.g., succulents).

Plants in their hoop houses are grown in:

- container trays
- raised beds on the ground
- directly in the ground

Los Rodriguez hoop houses have irrigation and some temperature controls.

The rows of crops in the fields have some produce that is started from seed and some that is transplanted from the hoop houses.

The orchards include cherries, peaches, and apples.

In the fields and in some hoop houses, Los Rodriguez makes use of plastic row covers. These help keep moisture in and reduce weeds. Many of their fields use irrigation tubes, fed from their wells.

Our visit to Los Rodriguez Farm in June was a wonderful experience as they are so well-aligned with Chicago Market's values including accountability, transparency, and joy. Stephanie is so welcoming to visitors and proud to show off her family's farm. If you're planning to be in southwest Michigan and want to visit, let her know you're coming and you'll be welcome.

Be sure to enjoy their fresh, local Midwest bounty at the Uptown Farmers Market. It's farms like this that will fill the shelves at Chicago Market!

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