The Western side of Michigan is known for its fruit production. Cherries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches…my mouth is watering just thinking about it! On our recent vacation to Grand Haven, Michigan, we knew we wanted to make time to hit some farm stands before returning home. As luck would have it, Miguel Ochoa, co-owner of A & L Blueberry Farm and Farm Market in West Olive, Michigan (just outside Grand Haven), invited my family to stop by their farm and farm market. I was excited!
We stopped by on our last day in Grand Haven. I wanted to be able to pick up berries just before we left so they’d do well on the 6 hour trip home to Akron. Sadly, we had rain that day – but that didn’t stop me from touring part of the farm with Miguel. I’m sweet, but not sweet enough to melt! 🙂
A & L Blueberry Farm and Farm Market – A Closer Look
A & L farm is a very successful, family run business. Started by brothers Miguel and Al Ochoa and Al’s wife, Maria, they’ve been in business since 1981. Since that time, the bulk of their business has been in wholesale berry production. A & L supplies to grocery stores and bakeries across the nation, including stores like Costco, Walmart, and in Northeastern Ohio, stores like Acme and Giant Eagle. Next time you are shopping for blueberries, check the label – there’s a good chance they’ve come from A & L Farms! 🙂
During our behind the scenes tour at the packaging plant, Miguel shared with me that A & L has about 1,000 acres of farmland, spread across a 100 mile area running along the Western Michigan coastline. This 100 mile spread north to south gives them about a 2 week longer berry picking season since temperatures up north are cooler and therefore the season starts later. The blueberry season typically runs from around July 10th – October 10th. On the tour, we were lucky enough to enter the packaging facility, where the temperature is kept at a chilly 36 degrees! Yes, workers wear winter coats all day while monitoring the entire packing process. Miguel explained that as soon as the berries are picked, they are kept in cold storage to maintain their freshness until they are delivered to stores. The morning we were there, that day’s shipment was headed to Chicago, and would be there by that evening. The berries had just been picked the day prior. Berries from bush to store within a couple days? Impressive!
A & L Farms – They Grow More Than Just Blueberries
Recently, A & L opened a retail farm market. Here locals (and vacationers!) can purchase strawberries, peaches, cherries, blueberries, and other fruits, as well as a wide variety of fresh picked vegetables like zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and potatoes – most are grown right at A & L.
Now, this is no average farm market, I must tell you! First off, the selection is amazing. Aside from the fresh fruit and veggies I mentioned, A & L has their own line of fruit preserves, syrups and salsas, dried fruit and nut snack mixes, baking mixes! Whew! They also carry local honey, and all sorts of berry scented items like candles and soaps. Suffice it to say, they’ve got it going on! Can you say “Great gift ideas?”
A & L recently transplanted row after row of blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry bushes from other locations to the Farm Market site. Now, they even have “U pick” fields for folks that like to pick their own berries.
Another thing that sets A & L Farm Market apart is the way they’ve built it to be kid friendly. A huge playground sits in a fenced area right next to the market, so kids can play, and parents can shop in peace. 🙂 They even have a blueberry barrel “train” that kids can ride during CSA pick-up times or special events. More on their CSA later, but for now, let’s focus on special events…
A & L Farm Market’s First Anniversary Celebration
If you are local to the Mount Olive area, or planning a trip that way (I highly recommend that you do), stop by the farm market on Saturday, August 13th from 12-4. They have quite a family-friendly 1st year celebration planned with free pizza and drinks, kids’ activities including a moon bounce, and special prizes throughout the day. More details can be found on the farm market’s website.
A & L Farm Market’s CSA
Not familiar with the phrase CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and is becoming a very popular way to support local agriculture and get farm fresh produce in the process. Individuals pay a seasonal fee which entitles them to a weekly share of the farmer’s crop. We are “members” of a CSA here locally, but I’m actually jealous of A & L’s member families. Our CSA grows strictly vegetables, while A & L grows fruits and veggies – what a bonus! If you are near A & L and not involved in their CSA, what are you waiting for?! Samples of a weekly share, and further CSA details can be found on the farm market’s website.
Wait! So…How Do the Berries Taste?!?!
I got so excited about all the details I wanted to tell you that I almost forgot the most important point: A & L’s produce is delicious! We brought home 5 pound of blueberries that only made it about a week before being completed devoured. Yes, I said FIVE POUNDS! Many of the berries were bigger around than my thumb, and sugar sweet! We ate them plain, on top of cereal, made scones, and tried our A & L muffin mix. Loved ’em every way we prepared them! The bing cherries were amazing too. And the strawberries, well, they were gone in a split second. Firm, sweet, juicy berries that you wanted to savor.
What’s the bottom line? If you are in the area, visit A & L Farm Market – tell ’em Beth sent you! 🙂
A & L Farm Market
13930 Lake Michigan Dr. West Olive, MI 49460
Ph: (616) 846-2583
Mon – Sat: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm
A & L Farm Market on Facebook