Interview: Tiffany Wernstrom

Interview: Tiffany Wernstrom

Tiffany Wernstrom will be one of the first people to tell you that farming “is a way of life, not just a job that you clock in and out of from 9-5 daily.” As the daughter of a farmer, Tiffany grew up on a large fruit farm and has been driving tractors since she was a child. As a teenager, however, her father sold the farm she grew up on, and it wouldn’t be until meeting her husband, Brian, that Tiffany would resume life as a farmer. Today, she handles retail sales on behalf of her husband’s farm, BW Orchards, working with everybody from local produce stands, to companies like Seal the Seasons, to ensure that top-quality produce makes it to your table.

Most importantly, Tiffany Wernstrom has a very clear-eyed understanding and appreciation of what farm life means: from the role that farms play in the local community, to the importance of raising healthy food for her four children. Recently, Seal the Seasons got a chance to catch up with Tiffany, discussing everything from farm operations to family traditions. Here’s what she had to say:

STS: How long have you been farming and how did you get started? How old were you when you first drove a tractor?

TW: I grew up on a large fruit farm in NW Michigan and started driving tractors when I was 12 or 13. My father sold our farm when I was a senior in high school but then I was able to return to the farm life when I married my husband, Brian. He owns a large fruit and vegetable farm in Oceana County, in Western Michigan.

STS: What’s your favorite part of your farm? What will you tell your grandchildren about this spot on the farm?

TW: I do a lot of retail sales for our farm. I sell our asparagus and peaches to local farm stands and restaurants in the Northwest Michigan Area. I am a people person and like working with the owners of the stands providing them with quality product to their customers. I will always share stories of working cherry harvest at a young age. There are so many experiences to share with growing up and being part of a farm.

STS: What is your favorite crop to grow and why?

TW: I like sweet cherries the most. It’s so rewarding to grow a nice quality sweet cherry, and it is not easy to do. In season there are numerous obstacles with weather and pests, just to point out a few obvious ones. I think the best thing about growing any crop is the challenge to get them all to harvest and have great quality fruits. If you are able to do that every year, that is very rewarding in the end.

STS: Beyond growing food, do you think the farm plays any other role in the community that it doesn’t get enough credit for?

TW: Yes! Supplying local jobs to people who want to work on a farm. It brings in business for other businesses. You need to have someone to fix equipment for example, that brings work and profits to the local mechanic. It brings families to our area to work and those families have children that go to the local schools. There are numerous things a farm brings to the local community.

STS: How do you keep your soil healthy year to year? Are there things you do to improve the soil and ecological diversity of the farm? What’s one “extra” practice you do that makes the land better for the next generation?

TW: One thing to keep the soil healthy year to year is make sure to replace the nutrients that the crop is taking out of the soil. Soil testing each year is very important, so you know what needs to be replaced. Land that Is vacant and getting ready to be planted, or is empty from crop removal, is worked and cover crops are planted such as wheat and rye to build the soil up.

STS: Who is your role model in the farming profession and what makes them a leader in the farming community?

TW: Honestly, I would say my husband, Brian. He works extremely hard every day and always strives to do the right things for his land and community - in all aspects, but even more so with his farming operation. Not only does it take long hours of labor, but it takes time to research new strategies/market opportunities, crop selections etc. to make sure the farm is successful and that it’s a forever farm and not just a farm that makes it to retirement. It is a way of life, not just a job that you clock in and out of from 9-5 daily.


STS: What is the most rewarding part of growing healthy food on the farm?

TW: The most rewarding thing is to see a small tree planted and then seeing the final product in the end. Brian and I have 4 children and when we have fresh harvested asparagus or fresh peaches to being home to the kids, the happiness they express to know that we grew it, is very rewarding.

STS: Do you have any special harvest or post-harvest traditions?

TW: Ha-ha… Our only tradition is to celebrate that the harvest season is over and that we made it through the very busy, stressful time safely. We refocus on our family when harvest is complete and enjoy the off season while preparing for the next year’s crop.

STS: What’s something that city people don’t understand about farming or running a farm?

TW: I would say it is not just city people but anyone who has not grown up or around a farm do not realize the work and thinking it takes to run a farm. They believe it’s just riding a tractor or mowing a field. It is much more than that. It is 80 hours a week, lack of sleep, it is margins/profits, it is a business. It is a 365 day a year job.

STS: What are your favorite dishes to make with your own produce?

TW: Brian would say pie, cherry, peach or apple pie but he will also eat anything I make. Asparagus is one of my favorite foods! Having fresh grown asparagus on the grill or in pasta all spring and most of summer is so good!

STS: What has been the biggest benefit of working with Seal the Seasons?

TW: The biggest benefit of working with Seal the Seasons is a local product available in our local stores. It is awesome to have packaging that features local area growers and their produce. We have so many friends and family that go to the stores just to buy the product because it's ours or another grower they know. It is also pretty cool to have a write-up about our farm and our pictures on the product for people to see as well. We’re very thankful to have the opportunity to work with Seal the Seasons.

For those of you interested in having the opportunity to buy some of Tiffany and Brian’s delicious produce, Seal the Seasons offers peaches from BW Orchards to those that live in the Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana area. Check out our store locator for more details.