At Blue Star Produce, Mark and Jennifer Collins grow more than 100 varieties of heirloom produce on their 40 acres in Buchanan, Michigan, in the state’s southwest corner (only about 90 miles from Chicago).
Mark grew up on the farm, where his family grew peaches and wine grapes using traditional methods. But after Mark studied agriculture at Andrews University, and he and wife took over the land, in 2007, they decided to concentrate on heirloom varieties and make what they grew Certified Naturally Grown produce, meaning they don’t use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified organisms.
Now the family has grown to include two young children, and the fields have grown to include produce like Detroit Dark Red beets and Suyo Long cukes, Freckles lettuce and Charentais melons, Purple Beauty peppers and more than 20 varieties of tomatoes, among the old varieties that chefs like the Hearty Boys love and their CSA members crave. Blue Star has two CSAs, one of which is devoted exclusively to tomatoes.
Sustainability and community are Blue Star priorities. The Collinses welcome agriculture students for on-farm training and observation. They donate their excess produce to community organizations, and share their seeds and plants with community gardeners. In addition to the wholesale business, Blue Star has its own roadside farmstand and sells at farmers’ markets at Three Oaks, Buchanan, and St. Joseph’s, Michigan, and at the Purple Porch Co-op, in South Bend, Indiana, where they connect with customers directly.