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Oakland's last farmers

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Glenn Mitchell, vice president of the Oakland County Farm Bureau, is the owner and operator of Mitchell Farm in Holly. In addition to working the the family farm that was established in 1837, Mitchell and his wife, Candy, utilize eight greenhouses on the farm for plants, flowers and vegetables sold directly to the public.

"The greenhouse was to adapt to the urban environment," Mitchell said.

Because much of the land in the area was already taken, expanding on the 340-acre farm would have been difficult. Today, about 200 acres of the land is farmed for corn, soybean and wheat, with about five acres dedicated to pumpkins in the fall.

"The greenhouses aren't something the family had done before," he said. "We introduced them about 25 years ago."

However, even the greenhouses may be impacted by the economy, as many people cut back on purchasing special items, or don't want to drive far from home, opting to purchase flowers and plants from local big box stores. Yet the urbanization of the county has been the biggest motivator of change over the years.

"At one time, before I was born, my family was really into raising sheep," he said. "With the railroad in Holly, they would herd the sheep right through the middle of town. However, urbanization also impacted the way that happened."

As herding sheep through the middle of town became impractical, another threat to the sheep began to spring up: dogs were getting into the field and killing the sheep. At the time, the farmers weren't aware that dogs would chase the sheep until they finally expired. The result was a bit of a mystery at first, he said, as they would come across the dead animals in the field and not know what had killed them.

"Apparently, dogs enjoy chasing sheep, and they would basically run them to death," he said. "That was the final straw."

Many years later, the family began offering tomatoes and sweet corn for sale at the farm, without taking the crops to farmers markets throughout the area, the endeavor didn't prove to be fruitful.

"It's still a good idea for a lot of people, but you have to take it to farmer's markets, not just selling it on the farm," he said.

While farmers in more rural areas may rely on farmers markets to sell some crops, urbanization has helped to bring customers to them, such as Long's Family Farm, in Commerce Township.

Long's, which sits on about 120 acres of land inside Commerce Township, has an apple orchard that is about 40 acres in size, as well as an additional 80 acres across the street from the cider mill, on E. Commerce Road. The cider mill is a popular attraction throughout the fall each year. In recent years, Rob Long added family attractions to the property, such as a children's bounce house, corn maze, hay rides and other actives. The farm also allows customers to pick their own pumpkins.

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