Harvest Dinner Spotlight: Young Farmers Say Follow Your Farming Dream

September 3, 2019 | |

Above: John Dindia and Bailey Samp, owners, Lakeview Hill Farm. Photo by Karl Goodsell.

Don’t miss the 2019 Harvest at the Commons dinner! Support Groundwork while celebrating our acclaimed local food world and the people who make it happen. Here we shine the spotlight on farmers John Dindia and Bailey Samp, of Lakeview Hill Farm, Leelanau County, one of the providers of local food for the event.

When Groundwork (Michigan Land Use Institute at the time) helped put northern Michigan’s local food movement in motion 18 years ago with its publication The New Entrepreneurial Agriculture: A Key Piece of the Farmland Protection Puzzle, and Taste the Local Difference local food marketing agency, nobody knew about the farming future of Bailey Samp and John Dindia; neither was part of a farm family, and besides, they were just 10 years old at the time.

But Bailey and John are precisely the people envisioned when Groundwork staked out the premise that a local food economy was not only possible, but also essential for our well-being, our farm family budgets and the landscape we cherish.

John grew up in Wisconsin, and both of his parents were college professors. The closest thing to a farm they had was a garden in the backyard. But as it turned out, that was enough to spur his farmer curiosity. “In high school, I developed an interest in plant science and built a little greenhouse,” John says. Upon graduation, he headed off to Michigan State University, studied sustainable and organic horticulture, and worked on the student-run organic farm. “That’s where I really got interested in farming,” he says. “I loved it.”

John met Bailey while they were both traveling in Ecuador and Peru. “We met down there and came back dating,” Bailey says. “Yes it was romantic, but it was also hard traveling—hiking the mountains, backpacking, staying in hostels,” she says. A good test of resilience that would come in handy later.

Above, clockwise from left: Lettuce transplants for salad mix. John and Bailey are able to grow salad 52 weeks a year with their greenhouses/hoophouses and sell to local retail stores.A tray of fava bean shoots, also grown year round for restaurants and retail stores. They are tender and delicious and are in the farm’s signature blend: Shoot Salad (a blend of sunflower, fava bean, and peashoots).

The block of storage root crops: carrots, beets, watermelon radish, and rutabaga. Planted mid-summer, the cropse provide a bountiful harvest in fall, and are stored all winter.

John first deployed his farm skills with a CSA on a 1/4-acre bit of family field near Boyne City. The customer base grew, he joined with a farming partner, and they leased more land. But John concedes he began to feel burned out. After a few years, he wondered if he’d followed the wrong path and decided to try another profession. He entered a graduate degree program in environmental studies at the University of Montana. Six months in, he learned the most important lesson of all: he was going stir crazy in academia and had to get back to farming. “But I wanted to make it easier for me, both physically and emotionally,” he says.

“And that’s where I came in,” Bailey says, with a laugh. She worked to convince John that farming could be different, that farming could be sustainable for both their lives and the land. Like John, Bailey also had had no history with farming, until she started volunteering at John’s Boyne City farm. “My background is marketing and hospitality, so we fit together well,” she says. “Also, I am organized, he is not. He’s a scientist, I am not.”

With family investors, they purchased 58 acres, and with government loans built the infrastructure they needed—a greenhouse, a barn, a tiny farm store. And they set about building a new farm business based on small-scale, intensive farming. “Two acres of vegetables is not that much land, but it produces a lot of food,” John says. “We can space crops a lot closer together because we don’t use large scale mechanical cultivation equipment.”

As for advice for young people interested in following a path similar to theirs? “I’d say just go for it,” John says.

Bailey adds, “I would say get your education and experience on other farms before taking on your own debt. There are many farms that are willing to offer support and resources and to educate beginning farmers—ourselves included! Find your niche, and focus on what you’re good at, that’s how we’ve found success In farming!” Bailey has gained additional perspective in her job as a local food coordinator and events manager at Taste the Local Difference.

Thinking back to last year’s Harvest event, Bailey really appreciated that farms had a visible presence. Logos of farms providing food were printed in the program and were projected onto big screens. And of course farmers were front and center as 650 Harvest attendees sat down to a dinner of fresh-picked and delectable local food.

Above, clockwise from top
Look for the sign at 8608 E Lakeview Hills Rd, Traverse City, MI 49684. Come on in!A small sampling of the farm bounty, in the market store.

Stop by when it works for you. Honor system prevails.

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Attend Groundwork’s largest fundraising event to help us support local farmers and each one of us by growing the local food economy! Get tickets and sign up for a volunteer shift (volunteers attend free!) online.

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