‘Of This Place’

Growing grapes down on the farm in Leelanau County
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Green Bird Organic Cellars and Farm in Northport keeps chickens and sheep who wander the vineyards. Photo courtesy of Green Bird

Green Bird Organic Cellars and Farm owner Betsy Sedlar says that sometimes, she has to remind people that a winery is actually a farm.

“People often show up at Green Bird and ask, ‘So where is the farm?’ — which is entertaining for me because growing grapes and apples is, of course, farming,” she says. “I always like to tell people a vineyard is a farm just like an orchard is a farm.

“We are passionate about growing things and producing food and drink that are of this place.”

Green Bird owners Betsy Sedlar and Tim Hearin with their infant son. Courtesy photo

With that in mind, Sedlar and co-owner/husband Tim Hearin are launching what they’re calling a “market garden” on-site at Green Bird, which is located on 15 acres in Northport at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula.

“The vegetables just seem like a natural add for us,” she says.

Sedlar and Hearin bought the winery/farm in 2019. While Sedlar grew up in nearby Traverse City, Hearin is from New Orleans, and that’s where they were living when they launched a tiny urban farm in their own and a neighboring yard.

Long passionate about wine and wanting to broaden their farming options and add animals, they relocated to Leelanau County “to expand the farm dream,” Sedlar says. Hearin went to work helping in Green Bird’s vineyard, while Sedlar ran the tasting room.

“The previous owner was making the wine and doing the farming — he was doing everything by himself and it was just too much,” Sedlar explains. “He was ready to transition and we were in the right place at the right time with the right passion.”

Courtesy photo

When they took over, they added 50 egg-laying chickens and three sheep that are rotated throughout the property.

“They’re our lawn mowers and one of the primary ways we add nutrients back to the soil,” Sedlar says.

Meanwhile, they were growing vegetables for their own use at their home, which sits on 20 wooded acres 2 miles from Green Bird.

“I was growing more vegetables than we knew what to do with,” Sedlar says. “That just got the gears turning about moving the vegetable farm over to Green Bird.”

Now she’s got flats of seedlings sprouting in anticipation of planting a bigger vegetable garden at the winery. Visitors this summer will be able to purchase everything from tomatoes and peppers to kale, lettuces, melons, cucumbers and herbs.

“We haven’t grown for sale here before — just for us,” she says. “This year is an experimental year. We’re just getting our feet wet, a combination of our home garden and market garden for Green Bird.”

Just as they do with the grapes they grow for their wines — all estate grown — and apples for their ciders, they’ll grow the veggies organically, using a lot of compost and zero spray.

“It’s all going to be cultivated by hand,” Sedlar says. “Beyond the initial cultivation of the garden beds, we practice no-till gardening. We won’t run any mechanical equipment. It will be all by hand tools.”

Green Bird is located in Northport, at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. Courtesy photo

Sedlar believes offering fresh vegetables to guests complements the organic wines and ciders Green Bird produces, which include Pinot Gris, Riesling, Traminette, Chardonnay, Vignoles, Merlot, Gewürztraminer , Blaufränkish and Pink Concord in bottles — about 500 cases a year. Their cider is only offered on draft, and Sedlar estimates they produce the equivalent of about 125 cases of that annually.

“If customers (visiting the tasting room) are looking for organic wines, they’re also looking for organic produce,” she says. “If it’s something we can offer, it’s something we see as a natural fit.”

Meanwhile, she says Green Bird has evolved into a destination that offers attractions for families.

“The wine trail can be a pretty boring day if you have a couple of kids in tow,” Sedlar says. “People love to bring their kids to come and see the animals. We encourage that.”

Speaking of kids, Sedlar and Hearin have a 14-month-old son and another baby on the way this summer. As their roots to the farm and land in Leelanau County grow even deeper, they are building the life they envisioned back in New Orleans.

“We consider ourselves farmers first. We love being connected to the land in this way and being able to give back to the land instead of just taking from it,” Sedlar says. “This is absolutely a dream come true for us.”

And with a huge garden bed filled with produce in various stages of growth, maybe that question — “where’s the farm?” — won’t come as often.

 

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