What’s growing in winter?

It is late November in Michigan and if you didn’t grow up in a rural area you might assume that nothing is going on out at the farm anymore.  Don’t we just plant thousands of tomato plants in the spring and then pick them in late summer? The average daytime temperature in Dexter Michigan in the winter is around 41 degrees. What could possibly be growing? I went out there on this beautiful sunny day to get the facts from Mark Baerwolf.


Joel and Joe make hot dogs

Mark dreamed of celery

It is 5pm at the bar at Zingerman’s Roadhouse and I am finally getting to hang out with Mark Baerwolf. He has been up since 3am because he had a dream that he was stir frying celery. Naturally he got up immediately to go to the farm and hunt for celery in the middle of the night. He tells me he needed to be at the Roadhouse at 4:30am anyway so he may as well. I was here this morning and got to taste the dream realized. It was delicious. While he was out there he grabbed some beautiful  Chioggia Beets and used them to make some amazing beet chips as well. These are things that typify the Mark I know, extremely hard working and extremely excited about growing and cooking things.

This is the time of year for cleaning up the fields and putting them to bed for winter. The back kitchen of the Roadhouse has been overwhelmed with the tomato and pepper haul coming in these last few days. When all is said and done, the numbers are impressive.

App.6500 tomato plants yielding close to 15 TONS of tomatoes!

Tomatoes.Tomatoes.Tomatoes.AND Tomatoes.

Over 11,000 pepper plants yielding around 12,000pounds of peppers!

Peppers ready to roast.

You will undoubtedly see these showing up in Roadhouse dishes throughout the winter, and that is not all the yumminess we have to look forward to.

Two miles of winter carrots that were planted in August are being hand weeded right now. Mark says, “It sounds like it takes a long time, and IT DOES.”  Ha! Half of them will be harvested at the end of October and the other half with go under a bed of straw to come up in winter.

Cover crops have been planted. Winter Rye, Hairy Vetch,  and Red Clover are covering much of the new acreage. These help keep nutrients in the soil and prevent erosion.  Steer are grazing there now.  Mark is especially excited about this natural re enriching of the soil. Steer are grazing. Nitrogen is being added to the soil. Manure is being produced.  In the spring when it is all plowed up it will be rich and ready for planting.

Meanwhile, the compost pile is growing and changing and breaking down into rich soil for us to use next planting season.

Mark teaching Dexter schoolkids about composting on the farm tour.

Now that work out on the farm is slowing down a bit, Mark is back on the line cooking, mostly in the mornings. If you happen to show up at the Roadhouse most weekday  in the winter between 7-10am and Mark is working on a new recipe, EAT IT. Don’t even ask questions. It will be awesome.

Meet Allison Zeglis

Allison lives out in Dexter and is a major part of the day to day visioning and production management out at Cornman Farms.

1) Soooooo, I know you are next door neighbors and friends with Kelly, but when did your involvement in the farm increase?

As long as we’ve been friends, I’ve wanted to participate on any level that she ever needed help. I’ve been a farm junkie for a long time. So to find a good friend who had all of it in her backyard, it was a once in a lifetime synergy.  I think everything really accelerated last fall when she and I purchased one milk goat together (named Mona Lisa for her teeth that show when she smiles).  We rescued her from the Manchester slaughter yards, where other customers were there buying goats to roast for a middle eastern holiday.   A few weeks later Kelly got serious about a dream she’d had for a while to grow her goat herd – to sell milk to the creamery.  Then we discovered that Mona Lisa was pregnant.  And it’s all gotten crazy from there.

2) Do you also take care of the bees?

I have bees on my property a couple miles away, in Dexter.  Kelly’s neighbor, Carl Thompson, helped me get that all started 3 years ago. This year, I moved half of my bees over to Cornman.  So Carl is actually the one who tends to the bees at Cornman, but within this last year it’s been more of a collaborative effort.  Together we harvested the Cornman honey earlier this summer.

3) What is your vision for canning out there?  I saw some of the little labeled jars when I was out there last and I was so excited.

Canning is a huge part of our vision — seeking to preserve the awesome-ness of Cornman for the months when it’s not fresh.  We’re limited by two certification needs.  Someone has to be certified by the FDA at the **Better Process Control School.  I’m attending this at MSU in mid-October, so that we can retail things that we can.  The other hurdle is the facility.  In our vision of expanding the barn and addition a kitchen, we’re making sure to design it with preserving in mind. We’ve been starting to test recipes of some things that we think we might want in our repertoire.

4) What are you doing on a daily basis these days? overseeing buildout? Helping Kelly with animals? Helping Don with repairs/contracts?

 Anything that Alex needs done: weeding, cleaning, (yes with Don) planning meetings, writing vision, meeting with accountants, architect, going to zoning/planning commission meetings, etc.

5) Do you know when the dairy parlor fix up is supposed to start?

This is yet to be determined.  The 40 or so goats we have now need proper shelter before it snows. Our goal is to repair one of the standing barns behind the house, so that they can winter there. This won’t be their final location.  The best guess for dairy parlor setup is spring 2014.

6) I’ve heard Mark talk about the idea of having chef education out there. Know anything about that?

Education for chefs?  – I haven’t heard any talk about that specifically. But general cooking education for all. Absolutely, yes. A main part of our vision is to impart all of our knowledge to anyone in the community who is interested. – so we will have a Cornman school – classes for kids and adults, classes on cooking (preserving, bbq, technique, etc), gardening (seed saving etc), animal husbandry (goats, milking, etc) classes held by other ZCOB

7)I know you are quite a chef in your own right. Are you going to be on the onsite crew preparing meals for events out there?

Yes I anticipate that in some format I will be. We are still working on dividing responsibilities. Even when we have figured it out to some extent, I’m sure that it will fluctuate depending on the needs of the hour, day, month, season.

8) What needs to be done to that kitchen to get it ready for big events?

We intend to renovate the kitchen in the white house to a modernized super high end residential kitchen with the intention of running cooking classes.

Thanks Allison!

**Since this interview, Allison has become certified at the Better Process Control School

Check out Allison’s blog at http://lastbite.blogspot.com/

Farm to table in action

Mark Baerwolf is the walking talking definition of ‘farm to table’. Most days he is at the farm, planting and picking and turning compost and guiding the work.  He also is on the line at the Roadhouse cooking several days a week, using many of the vegetables that he has grown in Roadhouse dishes. Here he is at the Westside Farmer’s Market educating the public on three of the many many things you can do with heirloom tomatoes!


Every year Zingermans Community of Businesses has a meeting in August to wrap up one fiscal year and kick off the next. Each of the businesses-Deli, RH, Creamery, Coffee Company, Zingnet, etc. is charged with presenting their next year’s vision to the whole ZCoB in a creative way. To say the least, it has become competitive over the years.

From 2003-2008, the Roadhouse wasn’t really known for doing a bang up job at this. Then I showed up and it got REAL important. Hard core raps were written about whole carcass meats. Songs from eighties movies were re written to reflect our service goals. Costumes and props were made. If you haven’t had the opportunity to chow down at the Roadhouse yet, you haven’t experienced the walls and walls of kitschy salt and pepper shakers. Guests love them. They are an amazing array of Americana. I imagine they know more of what is going on it that building that anyone else. This year they became the reporters.

Here’s the video:


Let me know what you think!

Growing this blog with the farm!

It is an absolutely lovely Midwestern fall evening. 82degree daytime high and 58 overnight low. Partly cloudy. I am excited about all the development out here at Cornman Farms since the Hoey property was acquired in July, 2012.

The onslaught of tomatoes coming from Cornman Farms is ever so slightly slowing down. We are down from 1200pounds a day to 700 pounds a day.

Ethan Young has been building fences and took some time to show me around.

Don is working on the smokehouse,adding the cedar roof, helping pushing the dream of hams smoking out here closer to reality.

Whoever built it in 1888 did a damn good job.

The goats are fed.

People are already calling about events, but their is much to bring that vision to fruition.

Future event sites? Offices? Dairy parlors?

Stay tuned!