Simply grown: From the farm to the table
GREGORY, MI -- "My vision one day is to pretty much be able to stock your whole pantry" with naturally grown foods from as close to the local area as possible, said Simply Fresh Market owner and farmer Tony Gelardi.
It has been a big year for Gelardi. He moved to a farm in Unadilla Township just outside downtown Gregory this March, where he lives with a pot-bellied pig named Macaroni, a miniature donkey named Cheese and other animals.
He started a new apple and fruit orchard there and wants to build a cider mill in the future.
He also plans to move Simply Fresh Market, a fresh produce and food market he opened in Brighton Township in 2009, to a larger building in Genoa Township next year and support more local food producers.
He said the larger market would allow him to work with more farmers from Michigan and just across the border in places like Indiana and Ohio.
For example, "a kitchen there for prepared foods and catering will open up the doors to take it to a whole new level. If we're working with two heirloom tomato farmers now, then we may be able to work with 10" in the future, he said.
He would also like to be a resource for people with ideas for recipes who need direction to figure out how to make it in bulk, package it and "jump through a lot of hoops" to make it happen, he said.
He said it is "easy to have the recipe," but "how do we sell this finished product?"
For example, you might have a recipe for salsa made from local ingredients. To get it ready for market, you would need to "source out ingredients and figure out the calculations to use to make a big batch. Then you need the proper licensing on the jars. You need a label and to send your food in to get it tested for nutritional facts," and jump through other loops, he said.
"What if you can go to Simply Fresh Market and we can teach you how to do it all under one place and get the USDA to come and inspect you there?" he said.
"We're going to be able to buy more quantity and do it in-house under our own label (Simply Made). My goal is to have local condiments and prepared foods at the same price as what people are paying for foods that are being brought in from out of state," he said.
He said Simply Made products would come with "education about who grew that ingredient, how far did this travel, the whole backstory."
He said doing it that way "gives you the farm-to-table experience."
The larger market will also be home base for his family's four-generations-old business, now called Ciaccio Produce Co., a wholesaler that delivers to restaurants, stores and catered events, which his brother Nick Gelardi runs.
On his new farm, which he calls Simply Grown, Gelardi is growing "18 different species of apples," and other foods, he said.
"The big one is honey crisp apples. I also have peaches, pears, plums, apricots, cherries, raspberries, black berries, asparagus and Concord grapes started," he said.
He envisions building a cider mill on the property in the future that would house "a community kitchen" that would be "for rent for different kinds of benefits, fundraisers," he said.
"We'll be able to make our own cider and start a line of hard cider and other products," like "apple kombucha, apple cider vinegar, apple sauce, and I want to do organic baby food," he said of a few ideas.
"Thirty percent of our yields are going to Bountiful Harvest," a food pantry to which he already donates, and that he would love to hold cooking classes for the organization out at the farm.
Some bad luck changed his original plan for the cider mill. A 1911 barn came down in a storm after he had decided to buy the farm. Only a silo remains.
His new plan is to buy an old barn, relocate it to the farm and restore it.
The biggest challenge would be "financing" the cider mill, especially after putting money into the market and new farm, which are "self-financed" he said.
His goal is to open the larger market next year and start making cider by next fall.