The Rapidian

Brickyard Farms brings flavor and variety to Fulton Street Farmers Market

Valerie Lane and Kim Sanwald of Brickyard Farms, LLC add spice to the Fulton Street Farmers Market with insight, perseverance and 19 varieties of tomatoes.
Part of the 2012 garlic crop.

Part of the 2012 garlic crop. /courtesy of Brickyard Farms

About Brickyard Farms:

Located in: Cloverdale, MI

Operated by: Kim Sanwald and Valerie Lane

Specializes in: Beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic and heirloom tomatoes.


Farmers' Advice:
Valerie Lane: Learn to grow your own food. You don’t learn it in a minute. You don’t learn it from a book. You learn it by doing it. 

Kim Sanwald: There are people who can’t grow their own food, but the next best thing is to support those who do.

Lane and Sanwald in one of their hoophouses at Brickyard Farms.

Lane and Sanwald in one of their hoophouses at Brickyard Farms. /Brickyard Farms

Valerie Lane examines a row of potato plants at her farm in Cloverdale.

Valerie Lane examines a row of potato plants at her farm in Cloverdale. /Amy Hinman

When Valerie Lane of Brickyard Farms, LLC first started bringing her garlic to the farmers market, most shoppers had no idea what it was, or how to use it.

“People thought they were just lilies,” says her partner, Kim Sanwald.

Lane, exasperated, began giving her garlic away. But she faced other challenges as well.

“When Val first went to market, she was not welcomed, being a lesbian,” says Sanwald. “But she said ‘oh, you can’t keep me away,’” remembers Sanwald, “and she went every week until they let her in.”

Both agree that things at the market have changed, including the attitudes of those who at first were not open. Lane is now known as “The Garlic Lady,” and their booth is firmly rooted at the Fulton Street Farmers Market. Despite the changes, the pair do still face some opposition.

“There are still farmers that still won’t talk to us because we’re gay. But those farmers...they don’t have as much fun as we do,” Sanwald says, smiling.

Sanwald and Lane have fun “gardening til [they] drop” on a small “truck farm” of five and a half acres in Cloverdale. As a former city girl, Lane wasn’t always so enthralled with the idea of working hard as fun.

“The first couple years I was here, it was like, ‘are you trying to kill me? I don’t think I can work this hard,’” Sanwald remembers.

Garlic is one of the five signature crops that Sanwald and Lane bring to the market. Shoppers can also find five varieties of carrots, four varieties of beets, six varieties of potatoes and 19 varieties of heirloom tomatoes at their stall.

Why so many varieties? The answer is firm, and in unison: “flavor!”

Their artesian soaps are also available, including an array of Founders Brewing Co. beer soap. However, the Brickyard ladies want to do more than sell soap and produce.

“For us, it’s about growing good quality food, but we’re people people. We want to develop relationships with our customers, not just sell them produce,” says Sanwald.

Based on the idea that “all information is free,” Sanwald and Lane make it a priority to inform shoppers at the market about food, from how to grow it themselves to how to cook the “sexy” onions they’re selling.

“If you ask a question at market, we [answer it], says Sanwald. “There’s room for everybody to succeed—we can’t grow enough for the city of Grand Rapids! Growing food, and putting up food, is part of our lifestyle. It’s not just our vocation. So we kind of see ourselves as educators at market.”

Shoppers are encouraged to try growing things for themselves, even if it’s a tomato plant on an apartment porch. Sharing information and watching as people learn is something that Sanwald says is satisfying.

“Everybody’s valued. Everybody’s important,” says Sanwald. “We’ve had exchanges with people we never would have talked to because we have the privilege of growing food. We love people.”


Read more about life at Brickyard on Sanwald's blog, or pick up a copy of her book, "Basics with a Twist: Life and Food at Brickyard Farms," also available at their stall at Fulton Street.

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