Roadside markets and the Steimel Farm Stand


By Rebecca Gearing Carlson

Sun contributor

Beware this time of year when driving around the Leelanau Peninsula. Cars will suspiciously slow down and then veer off the road seemingly for no reason, almost causing accidents. Why? Spotting an animal? A favorite winery? A picture opportunity? Maybe, but most roadtrippers are stopping for the gorgeously arrayed farm stands throughout the peninsula.

A newspaper clipping from The Orange Judd Farmer in 1915, titled “Roadside Markets for Farm Produce,” explains the early development and growth of the farm stand business. “…[F]armers have for years sold a little produce direct to passers-by. This business is now being developed upon a large and important scale by many thrifty farmers. Where the farmhouse is near the highway, an artistic display of fresh fruits will attract the attention of many who pass by in carriages, automobiles or trolleys” (

This side-business allowed farmers to move product at their discretion, set fair pricing, and cut out a middle-man. The farmers make direct connections to the consumer; the farmers can move smaller batches of crops that would not be large enough for a commercial buyer; the farmers can sell crops that may be too ripe for a grocery store; ultimately, the farmers control the freshness of the final product sold at the farm stand.

Every time a consumer purchases something from a farm stand it is a reminder of our symbiotic connection to the earth and the farmers growing the food the public at large consumes. One of the hardest working farm stand owners, Al Steimel, embodies the above description of the farmer who appreciates the important relationship between producer and consumer in the Leelanau Peninsula.

The Steimels were one of the earliest farming families in the Leelanau Peninsula since the 1860s. Al and his wife Marjorie (Kalchik), also a fifth-generation farmer, live on their 155-acre farm which sits along M-22 near the current farm stand located at 2980 South West Bay Shore Drive south of Suttons Bay. The farm successfully produces apples, peaches, sweet cherries, corn, apricots, plums, squash, and pumpkins, to name a few of the crops, along with livestock such as beef, cattle, and poultry.

The farm stand began in 1998 at the end of the Steimel’s driveway. “Due to a larger than planned crop of pumpkins that [Al] grew for his children for Halloween,” he set up the farm stand as an outlet for all the extra product. Al explained they had a “metal [table] stand six feet long with a coffee can for payment.” Like most farm stands, it was self-serve. However, due to some road work the following season, Al needed to move the farm stand across the highway to the west side of M-22. This property sits right in front of Black Star Farms and south of Revold Rd. The Steimel family owns and maintains this land, and Al built the permanent farm stand with a cabin kit in the early 2000s. As the farm stand sits towards the front of the M-22 roadside property, the rest is open field.

From the early days of only selling pumpkins, the Steimel farm stand offerings expanded into apples, cherries, apricots, many garden vegetables, with pumpkins, squash, and cornstalks in the fall. Over the years, Al shared that various patrons of the farm stand and others have used the field surrounding the farm stand for impromptu picnics, a place for children and pets to play and run, as well as a place to take pictures.

According to Al, the Steimel Farm Stand will re-open for the season around early July and remain open until early November. This farm stand is self-serve with a metal money box inside the small building. Like all self-serve stands, the money box uses the honor system of paying for the produce a patron takes home, and cash is king. Al said over the years, some people have underpaid (leaving notes inside to explain the underpayment) and then return at a later date to pay the deficit. He added “people are super honest,” and he appreciates it. According to Al, “90% of the people are honest and pay you what you ask, some people give you more, once in a while someone cheats you.” He went on to explain that “the other extreme is that I [found] some maple leaves rolled up in [the money box].” While this is the exception, Al explained frustration that “he…crawl[s] around on his hands and knees to harvest” various crops for his farm stand, and it is obvious the “maple leaf” customers did not appreciate the work that went into the planting, nurturing, and harvesting of the food they took for free.

Despite a few negative episodes, Al feels very strongly about being a farmer. Why is he dedicated to work his farm and farm stand? “There is something [I love] about growing things.” Al’s dedication to his vocation as a farmer is clear when speaking with him. He shared a story of tourists who pulled into his driveway off of M-22 and began walking around the farm a few years ago. Instead of telling these tourists to leave his property, Al gave them a tour. By offering the tour, he shared the history of the farm and created a connection and relationship to this family with their impromptu visit.

Currently, between two of the Steimel family farms, Al has about “35 to 40 acres of fruits and vegetables planted to supply the farm stand” and other direct market locations in the area. Not all the fruit he planted makes it to the farm stand. Al explained he has a small patch of black raspberry bushes. Sadly, the bushes do not produce enough to sell. However, these black raspberries are made into his favorite recipe: Marjorie’s black raspberry jam, also known as “black caps” jam; “black caps are what my grandmother called the black raspberries.” Al shared that this family recipe is enjoyed and passed down to his children. “This is what mom (Marjorie) makes for the boys when they visit.”

After all these years, Al has worked his full-time job at Leelanau Fruit Company while working the farm each evening. During the spring, summer, and fall, Al plants, maintains, and harvests his fruit and vegetable crops for the family farm stand. He spends long evenings harvesting and restocking the fruit and vegetables for the farm stand. Laughingly, Al stated, “I am kind of like Meijer because I stock my shelves at night.”

While Al is planning on another strong year for the farm stand, which has been the trend since Covid, 2024 is a big year for the Steimel family. Al and his wife Marjorie celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in May, and Al plans to retire after 40 years of working at the Leelanau Fruit Company in October. For a gentleman who is always in work mode, does he have any plans for expansion or changes to the farm and farm stand? Al responded clearly, “First, I am going to enjoy retirement.” Selfishly, myself and others hope Al doesn’t decide to retire from the farm stand business anytime soon.

In 1915, the newspaper The Orange Judd Farmer predicted that the farm stand “class of trade will increase steadily, along with motor cars and good roads. Town folk will form that habit of patronizing the farmer that treats them well.” Everyone in the Leelanau Peninsula is fortunate to have farmers like Al Steimel and many others who make nurturing and caretaking of the land a paramount priority.