TRAVERSE CITY — Paul May sells around 24,000 eggs each year. His customers may soon see his face with their omelettes.
May and his wife Sharon run The May Farm in Frankfort and are one of 20 farm families featured in a new campaign to help consumers know who's growing their food.
Know Your Farmer features "baseball cards" and store displays with biographical stories and photos.
"We want people to get to know the farmers growing our food in this region and to make the connection that these are our neighbors," said Janice Benson, project director for the Michigan Land Use Institute's Taste the Local Difference campaign.
The Mays also raise beef, sheep, pigs and chickens; Paul May says he got interested in farming because he wanted to provide the highest quality food for his son.
"We made a commitment to producing it ourselves and have been able to share it with our community," he said. "If you don't want pink slime in your meat or E.coli in your spinach, knowing the growers and the way things are being grown is a step in the right direction."
May says his customers seek him out because they are looking for something they can't find in a grocery store.
"The faceless experience of a grocery store is not what we are about. We are about the personal relationships we have developed with our customers," said May, who plans to distribute cards featuring his family farm to customers — including Benzie area schools where up to 30 dozen of his eggs are used each week.
The cards are designed to raise awareness, Benson said. "We would like to help people get to know farmers as local heroes, as exciting and interesting people."
And interesting they are.
Richard and Diana Jelenek, of Spring Hollow Dairy near Buckley, have a cat named Steppenflop and produce 500 dog biscuits each week. Michael, Nichole and Parker McHugh, of Cedar Sol Hydro Farm near Cedar, say customers have gotten so comfortable at the farm, they've found some of them napping. Leo Ocanas is a former migrant worker who now owns a fruit farm on the Old Mission Peninsula.
"Their stories are amazing," Benson said. "Hearing about their struggles, as well as successes, makes you appreciate this very important occupation. The more you learn about these farmers, the more you'll want to support them."
Jim Bardenhagen, known as Mr. Apple, provides fruit and potatoes from his Leelanau County farm to schools in three counties.
"It is amazing that the kids want to know about the farm operations, where things come from, how things are grown," said Bardenhagen, who thinks the informative cards will help develop that interest.
Ryan Romeyn says the customers who frequent his Central Lake farm not only have an interest in how he grows the 70 varieties of certified organic vegetables he sells, but have also developed relationships with his family.
"... They have gotten to know our family and watch our kids grow, made a personal investment in our success," he said.
Now beginning a fifth growing season at Providence Farm, Romeyn says the promotion of local agriculture has been great fuel for his effort to live close to the earth and give back to his community.
"As a first-generation farmer, the movement toward local foods has made the climate right for me to be able to start my own business and make this farm viable," he said.
The cards will be a companion to MLUI's Taste the Local Difference Food and Farm Guide, a directory due out in mid-May that features more than 200 of the region's farms and their products, and will be handed out at farmer's markets and at area schools.
The Know Your Farmer project has been funded by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.