Aug 23, 2016Teenagers line up to work at century-old farm
Adapting to change has been part of Krupp Farms’ growth and improvement over the past 100 years. This year marks not only the Comstock Park, Michigan, farm’s 100th anniversary, but also Paul Krupp and wife Nancy’s 27th year of working there – the second longest run in the farm’s history.
Paul’s great-grandfather Charles farmed for 28 years, his grandfather Roman for 22 years and his father Richard for 23 years.
“You learn from the past and build on it and go from there,” Paul said. “It should improve with each generation. That’s the idea. You adapt and change because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Paul said he recalls a time when his father predicted a different future for the farm.
“My dad actually told me when I bought the farm in ’89, ‘You probably will not be able to farm this your whole career,’ because of all of the pressure around here for developing,” he said, “and just the opposite has happened. How would you know? All my dad saw was farms being sold to developments.”
In their 27 years of farming, Paul and Nancy said they have learned most from their workers and teachers, those who came before them. Lessons learned include investing back into the farm, keeping good help and the importance of timing.
“You learn to put money back into it – spend a little money to make things look better,” Paul said. “I’m not afraid to have a guy sit on a bush hog all afternoon to mow the parking lots all nice.”
Nancy maintains the yard and landscaping surrounding the farm market. She also grows cut flowers for on-farm weddings.
“We try to keep it looking nice and keep good help – that’s the main thing,” Paul said.
After purchasing the farm from Paul’s parents in 1989, Paul and Nancy added raspberries and a petting zoo, ice cream shop, wagon rides for school field trips and occasionally opening the farm to weddings.
Krupp Farms has yet to enter the fall agritainment business, due to a pick-up in business at their Antor Travel Agency. But Paul expects the next generation will probably break into that area.
“Berries is what pays the bills,” he said. “Some of that other stuff is just another reason for (customers) to come here.”
While the farm began in wholesale, Paul and Nancy have focused on retail sales for the past 20 years.
“Retail is just the way to go, if you’ve got the clientele,” Paul said, but there are challenges with a crop like strawberries.
“You can keep an apple for a year, but with strawberries – the kind we grow here, the juicy kind that people want – a couple days and they start to break down.”
Strawberries still in the field at the end of the season used to be used in processing, but Paul said the farm no longer needs to do that, because “the public cleans them up (in u-pick). Berry sales are split about 50/50 between u-pick and the farm’s market.”
“People are so used to coming out and us having the berries available,” Paul said. “I’d say three out of four of (sales) are just drive-ins. They don’t even bother ordering. They just come and get them.”
The berry business grew in the early ’60s, when customers started coming to the farm to pick strawberries. During this time, the trend of seeing customers go out to the farm began to pick up speed, Paul said. Paul and Nancy have continued the farm’s success with its strawberry u-pick and farm market, but Paul said they can’t take all the credit.
“We just did 27 years of it,” he said. “We had nothing to do with the rest of it. To me, it’s a number.”
“It’s a matter of having good help, and we have plenty of help around. We’ve got big families and friends and neighbors and so forth that work here and they come year after year after year.”
Members of both Paul and Nancy’s families have worked on the farm at various times, Paul said. His brother Ken has worked on the farm for more than 40 years.
Krupp Farms hires local youth to work more than 15 acres of strawberries in June and 4 acres of raspberries in July. The farm began concentrating on hiring teens about 15 years ago. Last year, the farm hired 72 teenagers and college students.
“We hire just kids,” Paul said. “Everybody else uses migrants, but we’ve just developed a nice thing with the kids.”
The farm has a waiting list of almost 100 local youth, and part of that list won’t be able to start working until next year, Paul said.
Workers pick strawberries, snip blossoms and spud weeds in the berry fields, among other farm jobs. Some work sales in the farm market or in the u-pick fields.
“The best thing that those kids have developed is the attitude that they start together and they finish together,” Paul said. “Even if they bring their lug up and they’re done, they’ll go out there and help the other ones finish.”
Paul said he enjoys watching the friendships develop between kids who attend different schools.
“I wear a white shirt, always … so they’ll wear white shirts on Wednesdays just to mock me a little bit,” he said. “They call it White Shirt Wednesday.”
During raspberry season, a group of about 20 workers go into work early to make waffles for Waffle Wednesday.
“They just love being together, and they develop relationships from all these different areas and then they end up doing other stuff together. They’re a joy, they really are.”
Communicating with his young workers is much easier now than it used be, Paul said.
“Email and Facebook are tremendous, especially when you have to call 75 kids and say ‘Hold up an hour because it’s going to rain.’”
Paul and Nancy also use email to communicate with customers subscribed to the Krupp Farms website.
“If I get stuck with 30 or 40 flats or something on a Saturday afternoon, I just send out an email: ‘two bucks off tomorrow, Sunday noon to 1 p.m. Call to order’ and they’re gone,” Paul said. “It used to be we had no way of contacting people about that.”
As future plans are being made for Krupp Farms, Paul said he would like to see the farm go on to the next generation in the family, “because it’s a viable business and we employ a lot of people and it’s good for the economy. It’s good for the work ethic. It’s good for the area.”
He hopes the next generation will learn from the past and adapt to change.
“Every generation is different. You’ve got the basic principles: take care of the land and the land will take care of you; take care of your neighbors; don’t burn your bridges; always be kind.”
— Ana Olvera, digital content editor