On the banks of Rapson Creek, just South of Pickford in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, lies Sweet Grass Farms, over 1200 acres connected by three generations of the Bishop family. Back in the late 1970’s, Dave and Jane Bishop moved North from the St. Johns area to be near Dave’s parents. Their first residence was the humble mobile home, so ubiquitous in the UP. Soon after arriving they were able to persuade a neighbor to sell a farm right next to Dave’s parents to him on a short term land contract. He was not sure how he would pay for the note when it came due and in fact had to sell his draft horse colts and trailer when it did. He was left with $47.00 in his pocket after paying off the note. Times were lean but hard work brought opportunity and as other parcels of land became available around the original plot, the Bishops continued to expand. With 80 acres here, 120 acres there, a careful eye and prudent pocket book, the Bishop’s created a substantial farm that allows a diversity of animals to thrive in the rather chilly climate they inhabit.
The next generation learning the “ropes”
Horses, cattle, and hay have been staples for decades on Sweet Grass Farms but now there is a new focus: lamb. Over the last few years the next generation of Bishop’s, JD and Erika, have grown their flock to around 325 ewes and 8 rams. The flock increased to near 1000 with the spring lambs this summer. Their ambition with the lambs is to increase the flock to 700 ewes in just two or three years. The end game is to become the largest pastured lamb farm in Michigan.
Bicycle by barn.
To that end, Sweet Grass Farms has been working towards receiving it’s Michigan Agricultural and Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) certification. As their website states: “The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) is an innovative, proactive, and voluntary program that helps farms of all sizes and all commodities voluntarily prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks”. Up to 60% of the land east of I-75 in the eastern Upper Peninsula was wetland before European settlement. The clearing and draining of the wetlands makes taking care of the remaining wetlands and small creeks increasingly urgent. The aforementioned Rapson Creek is a tributary of the Munuscong River with flows into Munuscong Lake, which a part of the St. Mary’s River System that connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron and naturally leads to the Atlantic Ocean. This easy illustration of the interconnectedness of all water systems and the importance of safeguarding even the smallest components shows the great value of the MAEAP certification and the Sweet Grass Farms efforts to protect the land and water they depend on.