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Oakland's last farmers

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The farm produces asparagus that's sold by the pound on site at a small red shed adjacent to the asparagus field near Bogie Lake Road. Sweet corn is sold pre-bagged by the half or full dozen, which they say is picked fresh each morning, along with tomatoes and garden vegetables, apples and pumpkins.

For other farmers, urbanization of Oakland County has made some operations difficult or may even draw complaints from neighboring residents moving into the area.

"People don't like the smell of the farm, or having tractors on the road," Mitchell said.

With so much traffic in some places, he said it would be nearly impossible or extremely dangerous to operate farm equipment. As the economy improves, people typically start buying more land, and farms are one of the places that developers turn. For some farmers, he said, it may be difficult for them to pass on the high prices being offered for farmland.

Genovese said many of the farmers working smaller farms in Oakland County must work second jobs in order to make ends meet, or often have one person working full time and a spouse who works a different, full-time job.

"There are just a few that aren't working a full-time job," she said. "We work full-time on the farm now that we are retired. For 20 years we were putting into the farm before we got a penny out of it."

Matt Scramlin, who's mother was a school teacher in Holly, said having a farming family with one of the spouses working in a different field is a common theme for farmers.

"That's a common thing throughout agriculture," he said. "Most farmers that are actually farming — one of the spouses has a full-time job. My mother was a teacher in Holly. There are a lot of farmers' wives who are teachers. It behooves them to work off the farm for health insurance. Farmers and school teachers pretty much go together."

Scott Ruggles, a fourth generation farmer who operates Ruggles Farm Market in White Lake Township, said the farm has diversified its offerings over the years to adapt to the changing environment of the county. Like several other remaining farms in the area, Ruggles' family had roots in dairy farming. However, the family later transitioned to beef cattle and eventually cash crops. A farm stand was opened two decades ago, and the farm has since expanded from about 300 acres to more than 1,000 today.

"I've been involved in farming my whole life," he said. "After high school, I went to Michigan State University and got a degree in Agriculture and Business Management in 2007. Shortly after that, we started boarding horses. We removed that and added a second farm market to kind of try to diversify ourselves."

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