VerSnyder Orchards and Farm Stand

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By Rebecca Gearing Carlson

Sun contributor

Summer is that amazing time of year when farm stands come alive and are filled with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Here in Leelanau, farm stands dot the peninsula and generally operate from June until November. The farm stands vary from a table underneath a pop-up tent, a pull-cart loaded with product, to a permanent structure displaying a farm’s produce offerings. All the farm stands operate on the honor system. Usually there is a box where a patron can put their cash. Lately, some farm stands are offering Venmo or other types of electronic payment. Patrons of the seasonal farm stand fall into one of three groups: the road tripper flying by and stopping after noticing the gorgeous produce, the occasional patron looking for specific fruit or vegetables, or the last group (of which I am a proud member): the dedicated, word of mouth, military mission patron who knows which farm stands have which products on any given day of the week. Oh, and we have a communication system for our fellow dedicated patrons who put out texts such as: blackberries at VerSnyders!

According to the website Kitchn (intentionally misspelled), farm stands are the “grocery stores of summer.” They offer endless benefits to communities and their patrons. Why patronize a farm stand? When purchasing fruit and vegetables from a farm stand, the customer is benefiting from the quality and freshness of the produce; a relationship is created between the farmer and the patron where the customer can physically see and speak to the producer of the food; lastly, buying produce from a farm stand feeds into the local economy and community. Farm stand season benefits everyone. While interviewing fifth-generation local farmer and farm stand owner Kevin VerSnyder at one of my favorite locations, The Happy Hour, he carefully detailed all the amazing fruit he and his family have carefully curated on a 20-acre plot of farm land.

The VerSnyder Orchards farm stand, which began operating in the early 2000s, is located just south of Lake Leelanau at 1530 South Lake Shore Drive at the front of the larger twenty-acre farm. This sesquicentennial farm was first homesteaded in the 1870s by Kevin’s great-great grandfather, Mathias VerSnyder, who arrived to the area from New York. After landing at Omena Bay and moving to the Provemont area (Lake Leelanau), he planted varieties of Mackintosh and Fameuse apples along with a German raspberry varietal on his 120-acre farm.

Kevin confirmed that some of Mathias’ apple trees, well over 100-years-old in 2024, are still standing and producing delicious fruit. Mathias VerSnyder also farmed dairy cows in the early years of the farm and brought the first cream separator to the Leelanau area.

In 2024, the VerSnyders, father James, mother Wendy, and their son Kevin, farm peaches, blackberries, nectarines, Japanese plums, “pluots” (plum and apricots), pears, and “close to eighty varieties of high-density apples” on around seven acres. The sheer amount and quality of produce coming from about 20 acres is nothing short of impressive. According to Kevin, the high-density apples produce “a [higher] quality apple [as] the [apple tree] canopy is [very] narrow so the sun…ripen[s] the fruit more evenly, [thus creating] a…better [apple] color [and] using space more efficiently.” Furthermore, these high-density apple trees yield around “60-70 800lb boxes an acre.” Again, this speaks to the high-level of land management by Kevin and his family. Lastly, Kevin explained the other benefits to high-density trees are in “less water demand, pruning, maintenance, and harvesting.” It is clear why VerSnyder Orchards are designated as an environmentally certified farm.

Environmentally and food safety certified, VerSnyder Orchards farm stand is traditionally open from mid-summer (July) and remains open until the final apple crop in November. The VerSnyder Orchards Facebook page also offers great information about its participation in the indoor farm market at The Commons in Traverse City open from November until April as well as the farm stand’s offerings. Currently, VerSnyder Orchards sell about one-fifth of its produce at the farm stand and four-fifths to commercial outlets such as local grocery stores, some fruit processors, cider producers, and the indoor market at The Commons.

Of all the fruit produced on their farm, Kevin shared his favorite recipe, his mother Wendy’s apple bars. (Find the recipe at the conclusion of the story.)

Kevin’s plans for the future of VerSnyder Orchards involves expansion of his current production and storage capabilities. He laid out a few details of his future plans in “build[ing a] bigger barn for [larger] market [capabilities including] a licensed [commercial] kitchen to press sweet cider.” Opening a commercial kitchen on the farm allows for the increase in production of food products like Wendy’s apple bars and other treats for customers. Kevin also stated, “build[ing a] larger apple storage facility” would lead to more profitable opportunities. Other plans and ideas for future growth included removing and replacing varieties of fruit that are not successful, and potentially entering a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to promote all the apple varieties.

As with all farmers in 2024, the challenges facing them are numerous. Some of the macro issues facing American farmers are increased labor expenses, over-cropping, increased costs for farm management, and land values that make it more profitable to sell their land versus continuing to farm the land. The market challenges are another hurdle for farmers from year-to-year. A tremendous growing season does not always equal a profitable year for a farmer. Many years, when the growing conditions are ideal and the crops are bountiful, lack of storage facilities and processing lead to heartbreaking consequences for the American farmer who then shake fruit to the ground or dispose of the crops in other ways as there is no place to sell or place the product. Kevin explained producing, “too big of a crop [can lead to] no home for…the crops.” This is one of the largest issues currently facing local farmers. He went on to share that land values have left the local farmer with no choices but “to sell to survive.” However, what can save the local farms? Kevin felt strongly that “diversification, planting new fruit varietals, [and] being [adaptive] to market changes” are the answers for many farms to survive the challenging conditions.

The outlook for the 2024 VerSnyder Orchards farm stand season and their crops is strong. According to Kevin, “the mild winter actually benefits some of the fruit” sold at the farm stand. Bonus for us patrons! At this stage, my fellow dedicated farm stand patrons have already begun creating our ‘hit’ lists as a text came through from a friend who noted some of the local farms have been opening earlier than other years with rhubarb and asparagus. As a side note, the asparagus is truly wonderful this year. Currently, I am impatiently waiting on the text for my favorite fruit of the season: VerSnyder’s blackberries.

Wendy’s recipe is below:

Apple Bar Recipe

By Wendy VerSnyder

Crust:                                                              Filling:

2 cups of flour                                                 4 cups of peeled, cored, and sliced apples

½ cup of sugar                                                ¾ cup of sugar

½ teaspoon salt                                               1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup margarine

2 egg yolks beaten (reserve egg whites)

 

Topping:

1 pound powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2-4 tablespoons milk

6 tablespoons margarine

Cut together flour, sugar, salt, and margarine, then add two beaten egg yolks. Press most of the crust into the bottom of an ungreased 13×9” pan. Reserve one cup of the crust for the topping. Mix apple slices with ¾ cup of sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon. Arrange apple slices evenly over bottom crust. Sprinkle with reserved crust, then brush with egg white. Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool. Mix six tablespoons of margarine, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. Drizzle over cooled bars.