Through family and faith
Meet the Van Dyks, one of CMU's local farming families
IMLAY CITY -- Central Michigan University sources its produce from a variety of farms located all across the state. One of these farms is a family owned and operated business called Van Dyk Farms.
Located on Muck Road in Imlay City and stretching across 2,000 acres, Van Dyk Farms has been growing vegetables since 1958. While they primarily grow lettuce, the farm also plants sweet corn, field corn and beans.
“Very few (farms) make it to the third generation,” Adam Van Dyk said. “An even smaller percentage makes it to the fourth.”
Adam is a 32-year-old sales and farm manager, but he said a generic job title doesn’t describe everything he does.
While he manages sales in Michigan and the Midwest region, his father Doug handles some of the farm’s larger, longstanding clients.
Adam and Doug are assisted by Adam’s younger brother, Matt, and their uncle, Dennis. Doug and Dennis grew up on the farm in the 1970s.
“I’ve been playing with little tractors in the field since I was 6 years old when Mom was working in the fields,” Dennis said. “Working here, it’s been nonstop ever since.”
The situation is similar for Adam and Matt.
“Originally we weren’t fans,” Matt said. “As kids, you don’t want to work. But by college we saw the value in it. We didn’t realize how much it was ingrained in us until we got away from it.”
Adam said he and his relatives do a bit of everything on the farm, from planting, irrigating, weeding and harvesting, to packaging produce for shipments.
They are assisted by temporary agriculture workers under the H-2A visa, a program of the United States Department of Labor that allows non-immigrants from select nations to hold a temporary work visa during the harvest season.
“It’s very labor intensive,” Doug said.
While the farm’s harvest season runs from June until October, the Van Dyks start planting as early as April. Once the crops are ready to be picked, seeds are replanted. The cycle continues until their last planting in August, and they finish harvesting in October.
“Our summers look very different from other families’,” Doug said. “We don’t vacation, have weddings or plan on having kids in summer.”
Like any job, the farm has its perks and its challenges. One of these perks is the muck soil. It is a type of ground that is known to hold moisture and nutrients.
“The only downside is that everything grows well in it, including weeds,” Matt said.
Matt also said that lettuce is a delicate crop, which needs extra care and attention. As a result, the Van Dyks have two methods for growing the lettuce: Seeding, in which they plant the seeds directly in the soil, and transplanting, where the seeds start in a greenhouse and are moved to the soil once they reach a certain maturity.
The weather also plays a factor in planting. Dennis described this year as “a rollercoaster,” with frost threatening the crops one morning and temperatures hitting as high as 80 degrees the next.
“Michigan is not the ideal farming state,” he said. “So, we have a lot of challenges.”
Despite these challenges, the family works well together, and the Van Dyks believe it strengthens their business and their bond.
Adam said Van Dykes are closer than typical families because of their similar ways of thinking.
“Nothing gets you closer than blood, sweat and tears,” Doug said. “We have all three.”
Family is not the only thing the Van Dyks rely on. The family are Christians, and their business is built on Christian values. The company logo even has a religious symbol in it, the ichthys or fish.
“Our faith is paramount in everything we do,” Doug said. “It affects how we treat our employees and customers. I hope that is obvious and being accomplished.”
The Van Dyks said their religion influences how they interact with customers and local families in their community, serving as a foundation for their family and their business.
As time goes on, the Van Dyks hope that the company will continue to thrive and grow.
“Things come and go in waves,” Adam said. “We’ve been lucky to ride the lettuce wave this long.”
Matt said he views the business as a fundraiser of sorts. When people purchase from the farm, it raises money for the “fundraiser” so that the Van Dyks can continue doing and growing what they love.
“I hope it continues to bless these families and bless this community,” he said.