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US: Organic apple grower: Results worth the effort

For seven years, Stan Silverman has been producing fruit in an “organic” way, meaning that chemical sprays are strictly regulated and farming techniques dramatically altered from those used in other orchards. The result for Silverman, an unabashed graduate of the turbulent ‘60s, has been well worth the effort.

“An organic farmer never talks about yield,” said Silverman, who had just returned to Leelanau after driving 45 bushels of hand-picked, organic apples to specialty stores in the Ann Arbor area. “We’re looking for quality.”

Silverman, who is former owner of the Michigan Artists Gallery, purchased 66 acres of rolling land in 2001 from former county commissioner Robert Weaver with the intent of growing “organic” fruit. Now, he figures “Good Neighbor Farms” is the only completely organic farm in the Grand Traverse area.

Silverman calls himself a “late life farmer, as opposed to a whole life farmer.” Entering the business without lifetime lessons learned by a previous generation and the financial stability that comes from retirement, Silverman has been able to take chances that might frighten away other orchardists.

About 30 acres of the farm were planted in apples when he purchased it, with the remaining 36 acres in woods. He is slowly diversifying, having replanted about 10 acres into vineyards and other land into lavender. The apple trees are grown with the benefit of only insecticides, which quickly break down and are much more expensive traditional chemicals used to spray for pests.

“In organic farming, you have to be proactive. In the non-organic world, you can spray on Wednesday and it’s good for a week,” said Silverman. Keeping bugs, fungus and other fruit-munchers at bay requires near-constant fussiness, said Silverman — and some special tricks. He and other workers set out pheromone traps that attract some bugs to their death.

And lately they have sprayed a clay liner on apples to disguise them from pests. The disadvantage of having to wash apples before selling is more than made up by the extra money fetched over the counter for the “organic” name. How much more? Silverman was selling apples wholesale for $45 a bushel — three or even four times more than prices received for non-organic apples.

Eventually, he also plans to sell his organic grapes for higher prices than those fetched on the open market. Now, however, Silverman is still pinching off buds on the four-year-old plants to send their roots ever deeper into sandy soil at the site.

Silverman believes in organic growing, but he’s full of surprises. When interviewed, he was drinking a Diet Coke (“I’ve been up since 3:30. I need the caffeine,” he explained). Through proud of his role in shaping the cultural changes in the 1960’s, he went on to a career as a civilian controller for the Army while working in Warren.

Now he is returning to the life choices he embraced in his youth. “I grew up in the ‘60s, and that was a period of time we we’re trying to be eco-friendly. Your new ecologists of today are in their 60s. At no other time in history have people in the 60s shared so much with 16-year-olds,” he said. Silverman resides in Suttons Bay with his long-time best friend, Nancy Hansen. He has a daughter and five grandchildren who reside in Colorado.

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