GTPulse: Farmer White’s, a Family Tradition

Farmer White is not who you think he is, or at least, not who I thought he was. He is a she and she’s been running the farm stand for “forever” according to her son Timmy Cooper. Timmy and his brother Vince Cooper are part owners of Farmer White’s, along with their mother Mary Cooper. The farmstand has been in Williamsburg, Michigan for 62 years now, and it was Mary’s father Versil who started it.

The couple of times I’ve visited the farm stand I thought that James Cooper, Mary’s husband was Farmer White. Versil White initially grew tart and sweet cherries and sold them out of a small farmstand on a plot of land he bought in 1958. His daughter Mary worked at the farm stand since she was a young girl. She rules the roost now and for all intents and purposes, is Farmer White. She didn’t take over the farm until after she married James and had a family of her own.

“My grandfather is Farmer White, and in his honor, this place will stay Farmer White’s. My dad is actually from upstate New York. He spent 21 years in the Air Force. He was actually stationed at Wurtsmith Air Force Base. My mom was working in Roscommon, she was a lunch lady.”

The pair married and eventually ended back up in New York before James retired from the Air Force.

“When my grandfather ran the farm it was mostly commercial, and he had a small roadside stand. When my mom came back from New York state she started running the farmstand a little bit more and she liked it. She added pumpkins, squash, maple syrup and then she just kept on expanding everything ”

Mary mainly works now as the head of the kitchen at the farm stand, which is hardly a stand anymore. In 2012 she expanded the store’s bakery.

“It was a bad fruit crop year so she really pushed the bakery. So, that’s where the money was really coming in for us that year.”

Inside the farm stand are pickles and other pickled veggies, jams with flavors ranging from the ordinary (strawberry) to the unique (peach bourbon), and of course, a front-row view to the inner workings of the kitchen. Mary and her staff gracefully move around the kitchen cranking out delicious cookies, pies, scones and other baked goods that will be sold from the shop as well as dispersed throughout local farmers markets.

“I do most of the farmers markets, that’s my main job in the spring and summer. I take Farmer White’s all the way up to Harbor Springs, Charlevoix, and Petoskey. It’s a long day. You pack all your stuff up, work at the market, pack up and leave. You do that four days a week. I’ll come back and help out in the bakery.”

He also works the front of the house at the farm stand. Older brother Vince works on the farm. He is responsible for the planting and maintaining of new cherry trees, and peach trees.

“The first five trees are actually a flat peach, then it’s Coral Star, Eastern Glo nectarines,  everyone’s favorite Red Haven, John Boy, and Canadian Harmony.”

The baby peach blossoms are just starting to show signs of life, but it’s the pumpkins that Vince was working on this particular afternoon.

“That’s my brother out on the tractor. He’s getting everything ready for the pumpkin patch. We’re a little bit behind right now but we’ll get caught back up. We grow just over an acre of that and squash.”

You might be asking, what about James? The head of the household. Well, I’ll tell you. James gives his wife and boys all the glory when it comes to the farm. Retired from the United States Postal Service, he works on the packaging for shipments in the store. When asked if I could get a picture of the four of them, Timmy grinned and shook his head.

“My dad just helps my mom, he’s affiliated but he’s not. He always says the same thing. ‘I’m not a proprietor!’”

Proprietor or not, it truly is a family business. Father, sons, and the Queen Bee who made it all happen.

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Categories: GTPulse