Carole Caplan-Sosin’s late start in the agricultural industry worked to her advantage. After raising three children in Chicago, she returned to southeast Michigan with enough funds from her former job to launch The Farm on Jennings, just north of Ann Arbor, in 2017.
It’s difficult for young people to break into farming, Caplan-Sosin says, citing a large initial investment in land and equipment. The average age of farmers in the state is 58, according to the Michigan Farm Bureau, and Caplan-Sosin turns 60 in November.
Caplan-Sosin’s success can be attributed to more than her age. Along with produce, herbs, and cut flowers, she makes and sells jams, wreaths, soup mixes, dried flower arrangements, and tea. She also offers yoga and meditation classes, as well as glamping (glamorous camping) experiences, and offers rental space for small events. Her husband works full time but helps out when he can.
“There’s something about people coming out to the farm for meditation or yoga class that just makes sense,” says Caplan-Sosin, whose farm is in Webster Township. The operation is MAEAP Verified, which indicates the farm prevents agricultural pollution risks, and its produce is Certified Naturally Grown.
While produce and cut flowers have made up most of her profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, Caplan-Sosin says about half of her revenue pre-virus came from space rentals.
Soon after farmers markets were shut down due to COVID-19, she says, growers in the region came together to share best practices and information related to obtaining grants. Michigan State University Extension played a large role in organizing the efforts, Caplan-Sosin says. “The community has become much stronger.”
The pandemic also shone light on an already-growing trend, according to Caplan-Sosin — an interest in naturally and locally grown produce. The Farm on Jennings, named for its location on Jennings Road, follows organic pest and disease control practices, and has established a pollinator habitat, built up the nutrients in its soil, and rotates crops.
Caplan-Sosin’s 11-acre property includes a half-acre “food forest” in which she grows things such as berries and nuts using permaculture practices, a set of principles designed to use patterns observed in natural ecosystems; 1.5 acres of intercropped row crops and perennials, where different types of plants are alternated to maximize crop health; and a 30-foot-by-144-foot hoop house, similar to a greenhouse, where flowers and seasonal vegetables are grown.
Another section of the property contains more than 2 acres of prairie that Caplan-Sosin restored through controlled burning and the reseeding of native plants.
Caplan-Sosin predicts that in the future, small farms will consolidate into collaboratives, in which several growers come together to share the cost of land and equipment. This would help young people enter the industry. “The future for small farms is working together,” she says. “We need an investment in the future of our food supply.”