By Stan Maddux
LUDINGTON, Mich. – The corporate world and the traveling required was no longer working for a Michigan couple now thriving after becoming first-time farmers.
Doug and Mary Campbell have more time to take care of their young children and watch them grow after moving to a 7-acre orchard in Ludington, near the upper part of the lower peninsula close to Lake Michigan.
They’re raising sweet cherries, peaches, nectarines, apples, plums, apricots and pears along with various small vegetables.
The Campbells are also making syrup from the maple trees they tap every late winter and early spring in their 13-acre forest. In addition, the family has goats, chickens and ducks.
Mary said it’s quite a lifestyle change for a “city girl” but one she’s grown to love without regrets, even when very long hours are required during picking season.
She does much of the physical work in the orchard and also takes care of the business side of things while being a stay-at-home mother for her 3-year-old daughter, Charlie, and 6-month-old son, Jack.
Mary said she especially likes the special moments the change in careers has brought, such as giving her oldest daughter cherries to taste during picking season.
“She’s our taste tester. Our product inspection,” she joked.
Doug also has a short drive now to his job as assistant brewer at the Ludington Bay Brewing Co. He used to have a daily three-hour round trip to the brewery when they lived in Kent City, about 20 miles north of Grand Rapids.
Four years ago, the Campbell’s were looking to move closer to his workplace when they came across a house at the orchard. “We fell in love with the property and the land so we took a chance and bought it,” she said.
They were leasing the orchard to a grower while she continued with her career as a project manager for North Gate Resorts in Grand Rapids.
Her job for the property management firm required her to be away for up to a week at a time about twice a month to help oversee construction jobs her company was doing at campgrounds in her coverage area from New York to Virginia.
Two years after their first child was born, Mary decided to become a stay-at-home mother. She and her husband also switched to becoming sole care takers of the orchard after learning how to raise fruit.
“Traveling for a week at a time, that wasn’t going to work when we had one little one at the time and now we have two little ones,” she said.
Mary said pruning the branches for the fruit trees to flourish was a challenge, but most difficult was learning how to apply the pesticides required to protect the crops.
“We didn’t have any intention of doing the fruit trees full-time or anything like that. It’s worked out great for us,” she said.
Mary said she receives help in the fields from her husband on weekends and whenever possible on other days.
This isn’t the first time they’ve experienced drastic change.
The Michigan natives moved to Oregon for a few years, and both had jobs at Intel Corp. She worked in the facilities department while Doug was involved with sales.
At one point, Doug learned how to brew beer inside their apartment and became good enough at the craft to apply for a job opening at the brewery in Michigan. He accepted an offer for the position about six years ago.
Currently, the Campbells sell their produce in local grocery stores and other places like a winery.
Mary said their plans include offering a u-pick option at the farm next season to help with the labor, and cutting down cherry trees no longer very productive – due to age – on a 2-acre section of the orchard.
She said they’re looking at planting cover crops on that parcel for a few years to help revive the soil before planting new cherry trees at higher density.
At the beginning, the learning curve for them could have been steeper but the Campbells had some experience at raising vegetables in gardens they planted and maintained at home every year.
Mary also grew up with parents who took her out to tap maple trees in the woods at their home, and then collected the sap for boiling down into syrup. Her husband, after they first met, joined in to help.
They’re now experienced enough to realize more new things will have to be learned in the agriculture arena as they move forward.
“It’s going to be a continuing learning experience. That’s definitely what farming is. You’re going to live and learn through a lot,” she said.