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A Summer of Smart Commuting: The farms of Old Mission PeninsulaPrint

Thriving Communities | August 1, 2013 | By Zoë McAlear

Old Mission Peninsula is one of my favorite places to ride my bike, despite the lack of bike trails. Hugging the shoreline, I can follow East Shore Road and Bluff Drive up the eastern side and then cross to the west to follow Peninsula Drive back into town. This lets me stay off of Center Road (M-37) most of the time and enjoy the waterfront views.

On all of my rides, I’ve passed many farm stands, fields, orchards, and vineyards that cover the peninsula, and I decided that I should learn more about them.

So I set out for a ride with my new Taste the Local Difference smartphone app. I was able to look at a map of the peninsula and plan a route that would take me past different farms or farm stands as part of an afternoon ride. I chose three different locations and took off.

My first stop was Warren Orchards - Between the Bays (8169 Center Rd.). It’s a few miles out of town on the left hand side of Center Road, directly across from the Peninsula Fire Department. It’s a small, purple farm stand with an assortment of breads, honeys, jellies, and mixed vegetables, as well as a variety of fruit—cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries, and black raspberries. I had to stand for a while and consider my options, knowing that I would be stopping at two other places, but ended up choosing cucumbers and a jar of Saskatoon jelly.

Saskatoons are a new fruit for me and while they resemble a blueberry and have a similar taste, it’s not actually a berry but a pome, like an apple or a pear. I haven’t tried the jelly yet, but besides the higher quantity of seeds, I imagine it will taste much like blueberry jam.

From here, I followed the map on my phone and continued along Center Road for a couple of miles to reach Stoney Beach Farm (10295 Center Rd.), which offers fruits, vegetables, and farm-fresh eggs, as well as an opportunity to pick strawberries. They have a hydroponic (grown without soil) strawberry system that stands in vertical towers, taking up minimal space and allowing customers to stand up while picking the fruit.

Sadly, I rode up only to discover they were closed. Many farms and farm stands close when they don’t have enough produce to sell, and they all emphasize the fact that you should call ahead to find out if they are open and what’s available. Lesson learned.

Hoping that my third destination would be open, I headed to Buchan’s Blueberry Farm (1472 Nelson Rd.), which is easy to reach off Peninsula Drive by taking a right on Nelson Road about 7 miles north of Traverse City. It’s on the right, a short ways after making the turn. Not only was it open, but packed with people who seemed to know that it was the place to be. They have some products available (homemade granola and cookie mixes), as well as assorted fruits and vegetables depending on the day, but they are best known for their U-Pick blueberry field.

I decided to join in and picked up a bucket to walk through the rows. Fruit picking is a quintessential summer to-do and this region provides so many opportunities with strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and others. It can be a less expensive way to purchase fruit and many pick in large quantities to freeze fruit for the winter, as a reminder of summer even in the depths of February.

And as a final treat, Buchan’s offers ice cream in many different flavors.

By the end of the afternoon, I had visited three different farms (though one wasn’t quite successful), ridden my bike for a couple of hours on a beautiful day, and come away with cucumbers, a jar of jelly, hand-picked blueberries, and a delicious ice cream cone.

There’s something irreplaceable about buying food first-hand and directly from farmers. The Taste the Local Difference smartphone app helps make that connection. With different ways to search and maps to explore, you can find exactly what you’re looking for and how to get there.

Some farms aren’t easily accessible with alternative modes of transportation, but with a little bit of searching, you may find a few along a bus route or within biking range so you can combine a search for local food with smart commuting.

Zoë McAlear is an intern in the Communications department at the Michigan Land Use Institute. She can be reached at zoe@mlui.org