Kurt Anderson, who owns North Wind Gardens, grows organic apples at his farm just north of Harbor Springs on State Road. (Harbor Light photo by Jessica Evans).
Jessica Evans News Manager
Kurt Anderson has never been one to advertise his products. He hasn't had to, and it's a good thing, too, because according to him, he wouldn't be much of a salesperson. It sells itself, he said, because it's a good product and people recognize that.
Anderson owns North Wind Gardens, a USDA organically certified farm located on State Road just north of Harbor Springs. Honeycrisp, Liberty, Ida Red and Gala are just a few of the many varieties of apple trees that he grows. This fall, the apples will be sold to local establishments such as the Grain Train coop in Petoskey and a U-pick option will likely be offered for those wanting fresh apples right off the tree. Anderson also typically sells a variety of greens to local stores and restaurants most years, as well.
The 10-acre farm, which Anderson bought in 2006, has around 100 fruit trees, with the majority of these being apple trees. In 2009, the farm was granted its USDA organic certification. Anderson, who works as a part time rheumatologist in Petoskey and spends the rest of his time tending the farm, said there's nothing he enjoys more. He had always been interested in growing things, but it wasn't until taking one summer off to work at Christians' Renolda Greenhouse that it really sparked his interest.
"Oh, I just loved it, it was a blast," Anderson said. "It was a great environment. I was outside, planting and landscaping; it was just a lot of fun. This is when I said, you know, I think I'd like to do this, and that's what started everything."
Anderson's farm operates on a fairly small scale; he doesn't like to take on anything he can't manage himself. Keeping the farm relatively small keeps it fun for him, he said.
"I enjoy keeping everything operable by myself," Anderson said. "It's a gentleman's farm, and I like to keep it that way. It's a privilege to be able to do this and I really love doing it."
It was after Anderson started looking at the labels on conventional pesticide sprays that he decided to pursue organic certification for his farm.
"I read the warning on a label, and it really scared me," he said. "After all, I would be the one spraying all of this on the trees, so it would be on me, too. Of course I have neighbors, too, that I need to consider. I thought about it for a minute and knew right away this wasn't going to work. I have no doubt that these synthetic sprays work like gangbusters, but they end up killing everything, and I said I wasn't going to do that."
Anderson did some research and also contacted the MSU Extension office to ask for suggestions for natural pest control management. What he found were some decent options.
"I'm a minimalist when it comes to spraying," he said. "One thing I have found is kaolin clay. Water is added to the clay dust, which is all natural, and this mixture is sprayed on the trees, creating a powdery film. The bugs then don't recognize the trees and when they land on them, they become covered in dust, which they don't like. The spray doesn't kill them, but it irritates the bugs enough that they'll leave the tree alone."
Fish oil, neem oil, and garlic spray are a few other natural ways Anderson has discovered to deter bugs and still have healthy and tasty apples when it's time to harvest in the fall.
"You have to have a plan to manage pest and disease," he said. "This is an art form at times. A lot of people think, oh you just plant the apple seeds and they'll grow, no big deal. Well, there's more than meets the eye. The tree has to produce fruit that people will want to eat and enjoy."
Though it has taken extra effort to avoid synthetic sprays and become USDA certified, Anderson noted that it is well worth it, as it's something he personally believes in.
"I thought, why not do it?" he said. "A lot of people know when you are certified organic, they realize you have to abide by specific guidelines and practice good growing methods. Most people just really like knowing how their food is grown."
Knowing the source of one's food, is something that is becoming increasingly important to many individuals and is something Anderson said he has observed.
"Food is a big player in health and that's something that's important to people right now," he said. "Life is short and you have to take care of yourself, and I'm glad people are starting to understand that. I'm also happy people are making the choice to support local food. It's a huge movement right now. A lot of people want to know where their food comes from and many restaurants want local products now, too."
As Anderson gazes out at the apple trees and the field beyond the orchard, he mentions again how much he loves spending time on the farm.
"Just earlier today, I was in the orchard and saw a ladybug," Anderson recalled. "This is great, because they're an ally in getting getting rid of the bad bugs. If I had sprayed all of those trees by conventional methods, most likely, the ladybugs would be gone, too."
"The thing I really like is the idea of not overwhelming mother nature," Anderson continued. "We have a very finely tuned system, and I prefer to work with it instead of fighting it. Maybe my way isn't perfect, but I do the best I know how without any ill-effects on the system as a whole."
North Wind Gardens apples are available for purchase at the Grain Train in Petoskey. Anderson said he will likely have an U-pick option for those who want to pick their own fruit at the farm. Apples are typically ready early to mid October. He suggests individuals interested in an U- pick option call the farm in early October for availability. To find out more about North Wind Gardens, go to http://northwindgardens.webs.com or call 231-838-1766.