A series on local Community Supported Agriculture
Text: R. Collins
As one of the most agriculturally diverse states with almost 10 million acres of farmland, Michigan has a vast farming network built from large industrial brands and more intimate businesses alike. Across specialties, from blueberries and cucumbers to livestock, Michigan’s nearly 50,000 farm operations come in many shapes, sizes, goals, and histories. At their core, however, many share themes centered on community support and sustainable, humane practice; and most would surmise that having nature as a co-worker requires a certain self-resilience and perhaps a labor of love to keep the work going.
This is true for Shara Trierweiler, owner of Agape Organic Farms LLC, which is one of nine Black-owned farms in Michigan, and as far as Trierweiler knows, the only Black-owned, live farm in the state. As a farm owner and operator with a small but tremendous team—comprised of herself, daughter Philomena, and son Dominic, who has autism—Trierweiler’s day-to-day work on Agape Farms can include anything from chasing down energetic piglets to gathering culture samples for fresh growths of mycelium in her lab. Being an enthusiastic for soil and microbiology and pasture management, Trierweiler practices quite an exact science for cultivating healthful food that serves the land, protects animal welfare, and supports local communities.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to putting into practice is managing our animals’ health and wellbeing through pasture management and soil sustainability, and improving the water table,” Trierweiler said.
Though Agape Farms is relatively new to the area, Trierweiler—a Michigan-certified mushroom identification specialist—has been invested in cultivating and practicing her approach to farming for many years, beginning with an early appreciation for mycology, the scientific study of mushrooms, and collecting fungi with her uncle, an environmentalist.
Natural and agricultural studies have continually underscored the rhythm of Trierweiler’s life and profession, even when dire circumstance made them harder to keep. After enduring a divorce that resulted in a loss of home, land, and equipment, Trierweiler moved her family and remaining farming inventory—including animals and mushrooms—from place-to-place before finding fresh land in Dansville, Michigan. Despite the trouble that preceded Agape making West Michigan home, Trierweiler was determined to continue farming, slowly re-building Agape’s inventory and soon recertifying her land as organic—though organic practices are naturally upheld by the team.
“I think a lot of people didn’t understand what we were doing. Health was a priority to me and making sure I could create long-term sustainability for my family was a priority for me, and part of that was farming,” Trierweiler said. “My son Dominic especially loves to farm. It’s really nice to have something that we do together and both enjoy and then teaching that.”
One can find the pair in their lab, gathering mushroom tissue cultures and taking fungi from biopsy to petri dish with the utmost precision—which Dominic also excels at when it comes to the complex re-planting process. Apart from the close lab work, Agape also utilizes hoop houses, grass feeding, and multi-species rotational grazing to naturally fertilize pastures. The farm produces 28 varieties of tasty, nutrient dense mushrooms and microgreens—including delicacies like Lion’s Mane and Chanterelle—as well as fine quality Berkshire pork. New developments this year include planting organic garlic and shallots and repurposing the farm’s mushroom compost to regenerate 20 varieties of organic gourmet herbs.
Agape offers individual purchases of meats like Berkshire bacon and bratwurst, and mushroom varieties like Pioppino and Shiitake, but the Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program they have developed so far is also a hit. For spring, the weekly box includes four quarts of mushrooms, two clamshells of microgreens, and I.5 pounds of pork or one pound of bacon or sausage, which can be switched for vegetarian and vegan options. The bounty comes down to about $30 a week, in half or full shares, which can be delivered or picked up every other Saturday.
“One of the great things about our CSA is we tend to retain customers really well; I know that’s very problematic for a lot of farms, but we seem to retain a lot of our customers,” Trierweiler said.
The complexity of keeping land requires both personal and capital investment, and Agape Farms’ CSA program is a direct line to supporting both, while also benefitting shareholders through healthy produce that gives back to the land in turn. Of course, consistent capital sustaining the farm means even bigger things for Trierweiler, who plans on expanding Agape’s offerings into an educational space for students and potential Black farmers to see agriculture as a viable option.
“To see a Black person with a successful farm and be able to experience rural life and not just see agriculture from an urban farm standpoint and see another person who looks like them running that farm, I think that’s going to be important to revitalize farming in the Black community and I want to be part of that,” Trierweiler said.
Trierweiler has already entered markets throughout Michigan, including the Southeast Market in Grand Rapids and farmers markets in East Lansing, Holt, and Mason. Though there’s still work to do in solidifying Agape Organic Farms’ own sustainable future in West Michigan, it is already a community asset determined to grow, teach, and support the best possible present and future for those living things in its sphere.