Small Spaces, Big Hearts

In the heart of Portage Michigan, there lies clusters of greenhouses settled around marshy land spaces. Portage was originally settled by the Dutch; a prominent farming peoples that prioritized celery as their central crop. Portage is the perfect area for celery to thrive, as it lies on dark, nutrient rich soil beds. Teeming with the microbes and minerals needed to sustain an abundance of plant life. This makes an ideal space for folks like Matt Zoerner to be interested in greenhouse rentals. Currently, Matt rents two separate greenhouses. In addition to the greenhouses, he has repurposed the land behind them for the cultivation of lettuce, and other mixed green varietals. Beyond the lettuce field lies a grassy knoll with bee boxes tucked away. Matt says the bee boxes are a newer addition, so they are still in their growth phase. On average, it takes an established hive around two years to begin producing enough honey for cultivation.

 “Fresh Air”. A low-down shot of a variety of mixed greens. The sides of the greenhouse have been rolled up to allow that fresh Michigan- Summer air in. During other seasons, the walls would be rolled down.

“Fresh Air”. A low-down shot of a variety of mixed greens. The sides of the greenhouse have been rolled up to allow that fresh Michigan- Summer air in. During other seasons, the walls would be rolled down.

Matt started off studying agriculture at Michigan State University. He has since gone in to cloning, farm management, and is now taking a shot at full-time farming. The name “Lovers Lane Micro Farm” leaves little to the imagination, as he began with a few varieties of tomatoes, nursery plants, and above all, microgreens. At the market his stand is over flowing with fresh salad mixes, lettuce heads, heirloom tomatoes, nursery plants, and microgreens. Sunflower, pea, arugula, beet, radish, and the well known “spicy” mix are a few of his best-sellers. Matt says overall success comes with the emphasis on soil regeneration, and worm composting. As if this Portage dirt wasn’t rich enough, Matt keeps “hot bags” of recycled soils and plant matter (from microgreen trays, clippings, etc.) along with the addition of worms to revamp used soil. After spending some much needed time in the “hot bag” the worms will have broken down the additional plant matter into a phenomenal, nutritionally dense soil.

 “Good produce, begins with good dirt!” We were hands-deep in the “hot” bag for this shot. The soil was incredibly rich, and well cared for.

“Good produce, begins with good dirt!” We were hands-deep in the “hot” bag for this shot. The soil was incredibly rich, and well cared for.

What started out as a one-man-one-dog operation, has since grown in to a few more employees aiding in market vending, and other work around the greenhouses. It is essential to note that Matt’s number one supporter is his dog and best friend, Buddy. Wherever Matt goes, so does he. A day on the job would not be the same without Buddy trotting up and down the greenhouse rows, leaving soil stained pawprints along the way. There is nothing more genuine than the friendship between a farmer, and their dog.

 Matt and Buddy in the tomato production greenhouse. July 10th, 2018.

Matt and Buddy in the tomato production greenhouse. July 10th, 2018.

Business is good nowadays, with a steady flow of interest from local buyers and marketgoers alike. Especially so, noting that this is his first year vending at the farmers markets around town. We had the pleasure of seeing Matt every Sunday at the Portage Market, and later on in the year vending frequently at the Saturday Kalamazoo Farmers Market. He brought integrity, flavor, and a high standard of product to the atmosphere. Also, a buzzing interest from adults and kids alike whilst checking out the glass beehive he set up on his booth every day. It is our hope that Matt continues to be a familiar face for many markets to come. The future for this young and upcoming farmer is looking bright, fertile, and full of good old fashioned, Dutch celery mud.

 “The beehive buzz”. Matt’s glass beehive was a must-see for marketgoers this season.

“The beehive buzz”. Matt’s glass beehive was a must-see for marketgoers this season.