March 1, 2024

“Farming Is Just Solving Problems”: 150 Years of History at Petoskey’s Coveyou Scenic Farm Market

The journey from homesteading to potatoes to organic produce
By Al Parker | Aug. 12, 2023

There aren’t many Michigan businesses that keep rolling along for 150 years, let alone under the same family ownership. 

But that’s an achievement that Coveyou Scenic Farm Market will reach next year. “It’s been in our family since 1874,” explains David Coveyou, a fifth generation operator of the farm, along with wife, Kathy. 

The Family Business

The homestead sits on some 330 acres just south of Petoskey on U.S. 131. “My family is French Canadian and came down from Canada to build a small sawmill and farm this land. It was an 80-acre homestead at first and has grown over the years.”

Coveyou has nothing but admiration for those early relatives. 

“I am crazy impressed by what they did,” he says, looking out over the pristine green farmland. “This was all forest when they came. They cleared all this land by hand. Took down trees, pulled rocks, and raised livestock, crops, and grains…and a lot of potatoes. From the bridge south, the soil is sandy and everyone grew potatoes.”

One family trait is to keep looking for ways to make the farm a growing and prosperous operation.

“They really took an active role in expanding the farm and improving its operations,” says Coveyou. “In 1907 they bought a Case threshing machine to use on their grains and to help other farmers. I see that kind of cooperation all through their history.”

One relative took an interest in beekeeping and expanded the bee hives into the hundreds. By 1909, the Coveyous were producing 40,000 pounds of honey a year and expanded it further into the 1920s. In 1931, the family built their own semi-truck to drive the bees down to Georgia to keep production going in the winter. “They sold honey all over the area,” says Coveyou. “From here up to Calumet in the U.P.” 

From the 1920s to the 1950s, it was the Potato Era at Coveyou farm, and David’s grandfather Eugene was leading the way. 

“Farmers during those years used to compete on who could produce the most potatoes,” says Coveyou. “During the 1940s, there was a labor shortage and schools would close so kids could help harvest the potato crop. Then my dad, Lorenzo, designed an automatic potato harvester. He didn’t try to market it or anything, but used it on the farm.” 

Potatoes went out of fashion in the 1960s, and as markets changed, so did the enterprising Coveyou family. Under  Lorenzo’s guidance, the farm got into seed grains, wheat, rye, barley and oats. The farm diversified into strawberries and sweet corn at that time as well.  

The Prodigal Son Returns

When Coveyou was a boy, he spent many years working on the farm, but got some conflicting advice from Lorenzo. “He said, ‘David, whatever you do, don’t go into farming,’” recalls Coveyou with a laugh. 

And Coveyou took that advice. After graduating from Petoskey High School, he traveled north to Michigan Tech and earned an engineering degree. He headed west, to southern California, where he worked on satellite designs. Tiring of the L.A. lifestyle, Coveyou moved to a Boston suburb where he engineered cell phones. 

While he pursued his engineering career, his parents were getting older and none of his siblings seemed interested in taking over the operation of the family farm. 

“In Massachusetts, I got interested in sustainable small farms,” he says. “I wondered if it would be economically viable for a small farm in northern Michigan.” 

And when he said he was going to give up engineering to return to Petoskey and farm?

“My parents were supportive, but they thought I was crazy,” he says, smiling. “It was a slow transition from engineering to farming, but I was 100 percent in by 2007. I already had a model that I thought would work.”

That model includes growing produce high in quality, and Coveyou started not with veggies, but with chrysanthemums. Then he added organically grown produce, which he studied during his Massachusetts years. “You have to have scale and high quality items,” he explains.  

He went into tomatoes in a big way, first building a single hoop house for them, then adding over the years. Now the farm has 10 hoop houses holding thousands of tomato plants in various stages of growth. Cherries, grapes, and various produce followed. There are now 30 acres of organic produce lovingly cared for on the farm. 

“When it comes to flavor, I’ll put ours up against anybody,” Coveyou says. “The key to our operation is to keep evolving. Farming is just solving problems.”

One problem this generation of Coveyous solved was satisfying the farm’s appetite for energy. They built geo-thermal walk-in coolers to keep produce cool in the summer sun, and in 2014 added a solar array that produces all the electricity the farm uses for the coolers, the farmhouse, and the lights—everything except for the irrigation pump. 

Coveyou’s innovations caught the eyes of state officials, and he was twice honored by Gov. Rick Snyder with energy efficiency awards. 

“We were part of a group,” Coveyou says modestly about the Lansing accolades. “We’ve gotten calls from across the country from folks who want to learn about our geo-thermal.” 

Going to Market

So where can you find the bounty of the farm?

The Coveyou barn, built in 1937 when U.S. 131 was built, houses the elaborate farm market packed with wholesome, fresh products. While an impressive assortment of fresh veggies are available at the market, much of it goes to restaurants, stores, and wholesalers across northern Michigan.

“Two hundred pounds of lettuce goes to City Park Grille every week,” Coveyou notes. “American Spoon Foods uses our tomatillos and peppers in their salsas and spicy jams.” 

In the fall, when classes resume, the Coveyous sell produce to schools in Petoskey, Pellston, and Alanson. In 2020, during COVID, they  provided some 18,000 food boxes to area food pantries, from Mancelona to the eastern U.P., and they still provide over 100 boxes weekly to the community Senior Center. 

“We’ve gotten some nice thank-you notes from people who got that produce,” says Coveyou.

One of the most popular aspects of the farm is the Open Market program, a produce-buying membership that allows a household all the healthy organic vegetable produce they can eat for one fee. 

Members are allowed to visit the market any day of the week, visit as often as they want, and take as much fresh vegetable produce as their household will consume in a timely manner. 

“It’s on the honor system,” explains Coveyou. “We trust members to choose wisely to minimize waste. And it changes people’s eating habits. Some stop in every day, some from Charlevoix or Cheboygan come in once a week.” 

“It’s a really great program,” says one member who said he works nearby and stops in three or four times a week to get fresh veggies for his lunch. “I really love it and encourage anyone who values freshness to give it a try.”

Fruit, micro-greens, flowers, potted herb plants, carving pumpkins, seasonal décor, and packaged products are not included in the Open Market plan. The season runs from June through October, and the fee is based on the size of the family. A single-person charge is $110 a month, while a second person can be added for $50 more. Additional children ages 8-20 are $5 a month, and children under 8 are free.   

“I can’t stress enough how important the community is in making the farm a success,” says Coveyou. “Anyone who comes into our market feels better when they leave. They know they’re not just at a store. Everything here is top quality.” 

So will the farm continue whenever David and Kathy decide to step back? “We have four kids, three boys and a girl, and they all have great appreciation for the farm,” he hints.  

Learn more at coveyouscenicfarm.com or call (231) 347-0011.

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