SUTTONS BAY -- Standing next to the wood fire brick oven is the best spot in the house for Jen Welty on a recent crisp-cold fall morning.
Holding out her hands at shoulder level, palms facing the embers, Welty talks about the homemade pizza she'll soon bake, and how she's found a place to carry out her passions.
"It's combining what I love to do, cooking and food with hospitality," said Jen, 33, who runs the farmer's market at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay.
It's not just any food she's preparing, either. Just outside the market's doors is the garden in which the produce she uses is grown, thanks to her husband Nic Welty, 26, who oversees the sprawling property's community-supported agriculture program.
"I always looked at food thinking, 'Why can't I grow it myself?'" said Jen, who studied agriculture at Ohio State University.
It was a natural fit, then, for Jen and Nic, also an OSU graduate, to find themselves at what they call a "value-added agriculture farm." Following internships at Black Star Farms, working in its vineyard and tasting room "and everywhere else," Jen decided to further her education in agriculture by attending graduate school. Ultimately, she'd return with Nic and her now 8-year-old daughter to Leelanau County.
"I was trying to seek out places that make money and kept farmland (as) farmland," she said. "Now we're back and we're trying to put the farming back into farming."
It's a sentiment shared by pretty much everyone at Black Star Farms, a bed-and-breakfast inn that's home to vineyards, a distillery and tasting room, orchards, trails, boarding stables and, most recently, a creamery and the farm market. The idea is growing and creating on-site, and sharing with guests and visitors right then and there, said Don Coe, co-owner of Black Star Farms.
"We don't want anything to leave as raw material," Coe said, citing the fruit grown for jam, grapes harvested for wine and cheese made in the creamery, all of which is then sold on the property and elsewhere. "You've got to embrace more than just growing. It has to process, it has to retail and it has to market. We're experiential agriculture."
Going a step further, it was important to Coe and his business partners, wife Marylou and Kerm and Sallie Campbell, that an investment in young farmers and artisans be part of Black Star Farms. They wanted to preserve agricultural land while encouraging young people to stay and work in the region, he said. Black Star Farms has 25 full-time and 10 part-time employees, many of whom are in their 20s and early 30s.
"We try to act an as incubator here for young people coming out of college," said Coe, 68, who long has been interested in boosting youth, particularly those interested in agriculture and culinary careers.
It wasn't about offering a handout, Coe said, but rather "finding young people who share the passion we do" but don't necessarily have the means to own their own business.
"What you can't do yourself, we'll help you do," he said.
Coe pointed to cheesemakers Anne and John Hoyt and the Weltys as ways Black Star Farms nurtures budding entrepreneurs.
"The idea is if we can create opportunities, we help them do that," Coe said. "It's not completely altruistic. All the things they do help us."
Crouched down between rows of greens, his hands covered with soil, Nic Welty clearly is in his element. Having grown up on a farm in Ohio, he went on to earn a master's degree in horticulture before finding himself overseeing 11 acres at Black Star Farms.
"If you look at this area here," Nic said, pointing to a 2,500-square-foot fenced section of the garden, "there's three different crops that have grown here. It's intensive agriculture."
With the addition of an MSU-donated "hoop house" -- a 2,000-squarefoot greenhouse -- Nic is able to extend his garden's growing season and grow organic and pesticide-free specialty produce such as mustard greens, baby lettuces, heirloom tomatoes and melons, even raspberries that are used in a Black Star Farms' dessert wine.
No matter what the future holds for Black Star Farms' young entrepreneurs -- they could choose to invest in their businesses and eventually take ownership -- Jen and Nic said they're happy to have the opportunity to make a living while pursuing their interests.
"We wanted to do something that would give back to the community and potentially grow jobs in the area," Jen said. The hoop house, for example, can provide produce for 15 families through the winter.
"People can see products from the farm on their table."