Mar 5, 2012Family means business
DeGrandchamp Farms has been in business since 1958. That’s when Vincent and Beatrice DeGrandchamp bought a small, 12-acre blueberry farm near South Haven, Mich. The farm expanded and is still managed by the same family.
In addition to 150 acres of blueberries, the DeGrandchamps now harvest at least 40 acres of cranberries and an additional 7 acres of container-grown nursery and greenhouse stock, said Mike DeGrandchamp during the 2011 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO Bus Tour.
Daughter Judy Johnson manages the office and retail market. Mike oversees nursery and greenhouse operations. Joe DeGrandchamp manages the blueberry portion of the business. Bob DeGrandchamp oversees cranberry care and harvesting. All are equally important to the success of the farm.
Blueberries are the main business at DeGrandchamp Farms, where they are sold u-pick, fresh and wholesale. The farm is part of the MBG Cooperative, marketing its berries under the Naturipe brand.
“We retail through our market and u-pick about 10 percent of our production of blueberries,” Mike said.
The u-pick operation is open seven days a week in July and August. The DeGrandchamps have planted several varieties of blueberries to ensure ripe berries for picking during the season, Mike said. The staff keeps track of where the berries are ripe and moves the customers to the ripest berries.
For fresh sales, the storefront often serves as a base of operations, but can get too crowded during peak times, Mike said.
“We often put up tent awnings outside and continually shuttle fresh berries out to customers,” he said. “We’ll also have them come in and pay for them, and then have the berries ready to go outside in the parking lot for the customer to pick up. It can get pretty crazy when the peak ripening time hits.”
A modern processing facility in the back of the storefront is used to process berries for DeGrandchamps’ fresh sales and for 3 other small growers within the MBG Cooperative. They process about 1 millions pounds of berries annually, Mike said.
DeGrandchamps’ cranberries represent the largest planting in Michigan, Mike said. The crop goes to Ocean Spray, but it is the harvest that attracts customers.
“We run cranberry harvest tours,” Mike said. “There are a lot of folks that just want to come see how cranberries grow and are harvested, so we run tours down to the bogs.”
Barring any issues, the 2012 harvest is planned for sometime in October. Last year, the tour hosted 3,000 people, Mike said.
At the DeGrandchamps’ retail store, visitors find a bit of cranberry history along with an assortment of products. There’s an authentic 1923 cranberry mill as well as photo albums documenting cranberry harvests on the farm.
The DeGrandchamp nursery offers blueberries, lingberries and cranberries to both commercial growers and homeowners, although 95 percent of nursery production is sold to sommercial growers throughout North America, Mike said.
“We realized that no one really offered the kinds of plants we needed, so we got into the business,” Mike said. “We produce about 500,000 plants a year.”
They also sell supplies such as bird netting, and offer growing, planting and fertilizer advice including “Sample Packs” that allow growers to test what varieties work best in various climates and conditions.
“The trial packs are a great way to see which plants fit the needs of the growers and if they will succeed in the soil type the grower has to use,” Mike said. “We offer the right fertilizer with the sample plants and welcome any questions about varieties and what can grow best in any location.”