Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 26, 2008

Young entrepreneurs try hands at farming

SUTTONS BAY -- Standing next to the wood fire brick oven is the best spot in the house for Jen Welty on a recent crisp-cold fall morning.

Holding out her hands at shoulder level, palms facing the embers, Welty talks about the homemade pizza she'll soon bake, and how she's found a place to carry out her passions.

"It's combining what I love to do, cooking and food with hospitality," said Jen, 33, who runs the farmer's market at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay.

It's not just any food she's preparing, either. Just outside the market's doors is the garden in which the produce she uses is grown, thanks to her husband Nic Welty, 26, who oversees the sprawling property's community-supported agriculture program.

"I always looked at food thinking, 'Why can't I grow it myself?'" said Jen, who studied agriculture at Ohio State University.

It was a natural fit, then, for Jen and Nic, also an OSU graduate, to find themselves at what they call a "value-added agriculture farm." Following internships at Black Star Farms, working in its vineyard and tasting room "and everywhere else," Jen decided to further her education in agriculture by attending graduate school. Ultimately, she'd return with Nic and her now 8-year-old daughter to Leelanau County.

"I was trying to seek out places that make money and kept farmland (as) farmland," she said. "Now we're back and we're trying to put the farming back into farming."

It's a sentiment shared by pretty much everyone at Black Star Farms, a bed-and-breakfast inn that's home to vineyards, a distillery and tasting room, orchards, trails, boarding stables and, most recently, a creamery and the farm market. The idea is growing and creating on-site, and sharing with guests and visitors right then and there, said Don Coe, co-owner of Black Star Farms.

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