MOFFA Farm Profile- Gateway Farm (Part 1)


Welcome to another installment of the Farm Profile. In this space we will share some questions and answers posed to Michigan farmers pursuing the many roads to sustainable agriculture. We hope we can all learn something from their responses and experience.

Farm Name: Gateway Farm Hub, Washtenaw County

Farmers and/or Employees: Around 20 (mostly seasonal and part-time employees)

Farm Size: 12 Acres

Certifications: USDA Certified Organic (by EcoCert), Real Organic Certified

Contact Information: (website); [email protected] (email); 1-734-634-7222 (phone); 10665 Joy Rd. Plymouth, MI 48170 (street address)

Q & A

How do you describe your farm production system? What’s the combination? Is the distinction important to you and why?

Gateway Farm is regenerative; it is based upon permaculture-inspired design and grows produce using low-dig, certified organic methods. An ambitious, cutting edge farm project and business located in Plymouth, it weaves together USDA-certified organic market gardening, food forests, land regeneration, and re-wilding, and is a demonstration site for these approaches. Gateway Farm is a place of abundance and beauty; a community hub offering nutrient-dense food, education, events, sanctuary, and hope for the future. It operates in collaboration with its sister farm Plymouth Orchard, and with Garden Juju Collective—consultants and designers of regenerative projects. Dr. Charlie Brennan and Bridget O’Brien are the directors of both Garden Juju Collective business and Gateway Farm. Mary Emmett is the owner of both Plymouth Orchard and Gateway Farm.

What about your system are you most proud of? Raising heirlooms, providing beneficial insect habitats, preserving heritage animal breeds, producing satisfied customers, being profitable, etc.?

There is much to be proud of at Gateway Farm. We are most proud of the quality of our nutrient-dense produce, especially our strawberries, tomatoes, herbs, and berries. Gateway Farm boasts a diverse Food Forest and Wildlife Sanctuary of 240 species/varieties, many of which are (human) edible perennial, and our crop fields and hoop houses contain (on average) 60 varieties of annual edibles. People are endlessly drawn to the diversity of the food forest and farm in general. Formerly a very flat golf driving range, Gateway Farm is now characterized by 2 large ponds, restored waterways, native pollinator gardens, and restored riparian wildlife corridors. We love how a family of sandhill cranes now are regulars all around our farm, and painted and snapping turtles have taken up residence in our ponds! For these reasons, Gateway Farm is gaining a reputation as a demonstration site for organic produce growing, regenerative farming, and urban agriculture.

What would you change about your farm if you could? Proximity to customers, soil type, natural water source, size, main crop, etc.?

All sites and locations come complete with their own unique challenges and opportunities. This is an open site with exposure to winds in winter, sun in summer, clay soils, a high water table, and a busy road. The closeness to the road means that we are in the public eye, which is good for publicity. The winds can be challenging but we have planted our shelter belts. Trees are doubling in height each year and will offer shade in the coming years. During dry times we don’t need to water crops that often. During wet years we have lost crops and so crop plans have to be adjusted quickly. We have remedied this partially by utilizing high ground over at our sister farm Plymouth Orchard for some of our crops. We are currently redesigning many aspects of Gateway Farm, including the business plan, community engagement, and the actual crops we grow here. Asking people to see beyond the standard American CSA market farm towards a more sustainable, diversified farm business—this is not easy! This site is a challenge that we accept and we don’t wish for anything different. We have proven that marginal farmland with degraded soils and ecosystems can be quickly regenerated to productive farmland and healthy habitat once again.

How would you sum up your marketing/sales style? What is the motto of your success?

We’re into cultivating relationships as much as we are cultivating soil, organic matter, and crops. Never underestimate the power of social media! We strive for high levels of community engagement, which is greatly added by welcoming events and spaces at the farm as well as by being a demonstration farm and because of the sanctuary. Emphasizing that we are certified organic is important, as well as offering lots of unusual and attention-grabbing produce.

What is the first farm/homestead decision every newbie should make? Is it a what, where, how much, or when?

Ask yourself and deeply reflect. Is farming/homesteading a good option for you and your family? Are you really clear about what is being aimed for with the farm/homestead? What resources, skills, investment, and capacity are available? Are you ready to be very challenged and often overwhelmed? Are you ready for the deep satisfaction that comes when things go well.

Rank these in order of importance: saving time, making more money, having fun, feeling satisfied, getting sleep? Anything else to add?

From the Gateway Farm point of view…maybe: satisfied, make more money, have fun, and then sleep in the winter! And add: abundance, inclusiveness, and therapeutic value.