Lively family launches NeighborFood Market

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Photo: Jane Lively poses with her colorful flowers.

By Ross Boissoneau

Sun contributor

Kelly and Jim Lively

Food, folks, farm and fun—plus a festival or two. Those are all part of the plan at the Lively Farm, a.k.a. Backyard Burdickville, f.k.a. the Eagles property on M-72 just east of Empire.

Lively NeighborFood Market is set to debut Memorial Day weekend, pending any surprises with the buildout or weather. The brainchild of Jim and Kelly Lively is the latest addition to the property, which has also served as home to the LivelyLands music festival and the Lively Farm, a CSA farm.

Both Jim and Kelly boast a background in the local food system. Kelly spent a decade with the food distributor Cherry Capital Foods. Jim worked with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, formerly the Michigan Land Use Institute, for 22 years. Much of his work leaned into Groundwork’s local food programs.

It was there that he first heard of Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor. It is a consignment-style farm market, with the farmers and operator each getting a percentage of sales. It is open seven days a week year-round, a schedule which Jim says they intend to emulate, though in the early going the market may not be open seven days a week. “The (Argus) system has been working ten years. Its first (priority) is it supports local farms and number two, it’s a good shopping experience.”

He and Kelly were inspired by that example. Given the number of farms around the area, when Jim decided to leave Groundwork, they jumped at the opportunity to create a similar operation. They saw it as a chance to positively impact the community, both farmers and consumers. “I wanted to leave Groundwork while I have the time and energy to do one more thing,” Jim says.

The family acquired the 20-acre property in 2019. In addition to the land, it included a 4,000 square foot pole building and a partially completed commercial kitchen. Jim and Kelly’s daughter Emily had already hosted one of her LivelyLands festivals at the site while it was still owned by the Eagles.

They soon expanded the use to include the Lively Farm, and now look to further it with the market. Jim explains the division of labor: Jane, his daughter, is a fulltime farmer, working 3½ acres. Emily is in charge of camping and events. Kelly now works fulltime in the office of Senator Gary Peters. “What that leaves for me is the market,” he says somewhat ruefully.

The operation will also serve as a model for reducing the use of fossil fuels and lessening one’s carbon footprint. The property will utilize electric utilities and appliances, with power coming at least in part from an array of solar panels.

Jim is guardedly optimistic about hitting the project’s planned launch date of Memorial Day weekend. “I still seem to be on track, although there are a lot of variables still in play that could knock things off course,” he noted a week prior to the Sun’s publication date. “Financing is an immediate challenge, but I’m working on that daily.” To assist on that end, the project is hosting a fundraiser on GoFundMe.

“Construction hiccups can happen so easily when something or someone doesn’t show up. But I think I’ll be close,” he says, with the walls and windows and insulation and drywall scheduled to be done by early April. Doors and floor not far behind, siding being lining up. “I’ve only got a produce deck and three-door freezer to find for opening, and I have a refrigeration guy looking with me. I’ll be working on hiring some part-time staff here very soon, but have a pool of supportive neighbors to draw on. And farms remain interested.”

Among those farms, besides the one onsite, are Second Spring Farm, which produces organic vegetables, free-range eggs and pastured pork; Noonan and Sons, which produces Holstein beef from; and Bluebird Farm and Gardens. “Chelsea and I are really excited to have another opportunity to have our products available,” says Austin Weed of the farm he runs with his partner Chelsea Loomis.

And it couldn’t come at a better time. “We’re still in expansion mode,” he explains.

Ken Lindsey of Ken’s Farm in Benzie County is yet another supporter. He says his farm is also growing, and he’s eager to find more ways to showcase his products. “Our main thing is microgreens, with a lot of herbs, some root vegetables too,” he says.

The completion of the commercial kitchen is already benefiting the local food scene. Mel&Fell—the duo of Melanie and Tim Griffith—have moved the base of operations for their catering and prepared meal business from Grow Benzie to the Lively NeighborFood Market. “We’re pretty excited,” says Melanie.

“It’s more efficient,” adds Tim. He says the walk-in coolers offer a better solution to cool food quickly and keep it cool than the refrigerators at Grow Benzie.

Mel&Fell will also be able to provide premade foods to grab and go. “People can stop in and get stuff for a beach lunch, or (heading home) for dinner,” says Tim.

They say the immediate availability of a huge variety of foods will enable them to spend less time shopping and more time creating. “We’ll think of many different ways to use ingredients,” Melanie says.

Weed says the commercial kitchen will also benefit his operation and those of other farmers who want to offer things beyond raw products. “We can do more processing, extend the shelf life with frozen strawberries, frozen sweet corn” as examples, he explains.

The bottom line? “We can grow more,” Weed says.

He’s also looking forward to seeing what the others onsite bring to the endeavor and what they can do working together. “Mel&Fell do amazing things with just a limited amount of our product.”

The market will provide foodstuffs for shoppers, from fruits, vegetables and meat to prepared foods. Ultimately the Livelys hope to open a café on the grounds, though that will necessitate an expansion of the septic field, so it’s some years off.

But it’s in line with the family’s desire to provide a variety of opportunities for those looking for fresh food and those who produce it. “I expect a soft, rolling start. The first month will be a steep learning curve,” says Jim. “But Argus Farm Stop has offered to send some of their staff up to help me with setup and some training.  So hopefully by July, when produce really starts coming in, we’ll have things dialed in.”