By KATHY GIBBONS
Christmas came early for Mi Farm Market.
The Ellsworth-based business expanded into a retail storefront in the Mercato at Grand Traverse Commons and also has a new contract to handle Pure Michigan's holiday gift boxes.
Co-owner Scotty Bruce said his company was selected to supply five gift arrangements in a custom wood Pure Michigan crate created by his company.
"They were looking for somebody with expertise in shipping gift arrangements, and product and marketing expertise," Bruce said. "Better for them to choose a Michigan producer than someone who would compete with the Michigan little guys."
Mi Farm Market started in 2010 as a small gift basket business operated out of a garage by family members Bruce, his mom and dad, Patricia and Ray Bruce, and niece Satin Sutherland. The business has seen steady growth since.
They raised $6,000 through a funding campaign and with a small loan from the private Northern Initiatives community development corporation, moved operations into an old hardware store in Ellsworth a little over a year ago and put out a catalog.
Samantha Tolbert is an account manager with Helm, the Plymouth, Mich. company that manages the Pure Michigan online store. She said the company was specifically looking for items made in Michigan.
"The buying team had some previous experience with them (Mi Farm market)," Tolbert said. "One of the reasons we selected them (was) for their experience in the product, and being in Michigan is a huge plus."
"Our first full Christmas season, we shipped gift baskets to all 50 states and three countries, including soldiers stationed in Afghanistan," Bruce said. "We knew this business was going to have some long-term sustainability."
Their concept was to offer Michigan-made products from area producers individually and in baskets. About a dozen local producers signed on at first, but the roster continues to grow. Lines include Royal Farms, Cherry Republic, POP-KIE's Popcorn, North Country Chocolates, Graceland Fruit, Benjamin Twiggs and many others.
"In this catalog, we've got 40 different producers featured — not only food products, but locally crafted," Bruce said. "We've got a gentleman making kayaks, soaps, people who make wood sculptures, so we're displaying their stuff in our store, as well."
Mi Farm Market hosted a grand reopening for the Ellsworth storefront this year and now has partnered with Sweet Asylum in the Mercato. The store has been renamed Mi Farm Market and features the Mi Farm Market product lines, as well as Sweet Asylum's snack mixes and chocolate-dipped and drenched goodies. Other products include Traverse City-made Charles Layton Chocolates and Sanders.
"Sweet Asylum still exists, but as a wholesale snack food company, not a retail space," said Tricia Frey. She co-owns Sweet Asylum with her sister, Sandra Stegman, who is part-owner in the Mercato's Mi Farm Market. The kitchen there continues to be used to produce and package Sweet Asylum's food products.
In the meantime, Bruce and family have their hands full. Orders have been flowing in through the Pure Michigan website and were to begin shipping on Monday.
"We've set up a new system, so basically the orders are automatically relayed to us as they come into the Pure Michigan website," Bruce said. "Also, our website is built to basically track inventory levels, so when an order comes in from Pure Michigan or a customer, depending on what inventory we have in house, we can automatically notify a producer we are going to be placing an order with them."
From the beginning, the Bruce family's goal has been to get Michigan products into the public's hands. Producers like the Atwood-based Royal Farms, which has been on board with Mi Farm Market from the beginning, said it's working.
"It seems like they're doing well and they're continually growing," said Sara McGuire, who co-owns Royal Farms with her husband. "Especially at this time of year, they are picking things up from us regularly, so that's really good.
"People have different venues they want to shop through. When they try our product, they come back — whether they come back to them or come back to us, it's good either way."