BY SHEILA R. McAFEE
New York resident Susan Grybas gasped in awe as she caught site of the bin filled with fresh peppers, which minutes before had been brought in from the fields at Kurtzhals’ Farm Market in Brownstown Township.
With deep green shiny skins blushed with red, the contents of the pepper bin were a sight of seasonal beauty that took her breath away.
Grybas grew up down the road from Kurtzhals’, “at Telegraph and Sibley,” she said, and stops by every summer for garlic, dill and cucumbers to make dill pickles with siblings during her trips back to Michigan.
The Trenton Trib met her last month when she was shopping with her sister, Sarah Wright of Brownstown, and their niece, Evelyn Grybas of Livonia. Canning dill pickles is a family tradition and Wright was carrying a large bag of little cucumbers, which she deemed ‘perfect’ for the task ahead.
“Kurtzhals’ is the best farm market in the world,” said Wright. “The produce is wonderful, and the staff is so friendly and helpful.”
That same afternoon, Trenton resident Leslie Castignola was replenishing store shelves with two phones tucked in the back pockets of her shorts. It was the start of white half-runner season, she explained, and calls were coming in from fans in search of the bean.
No sooner had Castignola ended a call from Ohio about the status of the bean crop, when a Woodhaven resident arrived at the market with the same inquiry (It would be a few more days before the beans were suitable for picking).
“We are the only ones who grow them, and they are very popular,” said Castignola, stand manager.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of patrons stopped in for sweet corn as others perused the melons, eggplants, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes and sunflowers, all of which are grown on the Kurtzhals’ 300 acres of land (and that is just a sampling of the produce and fruit grown here).
The growing season is in full swing and will continue through November, said Castignola. The open-air shed is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
“We have flowers in the spring and produce June through November,” said Castignola.
Kurtzhals’ Farms has been rooted in the township’s landscape since 1893, first as a general grain and livestock farm of Frederich and Amelia Kurtzhals.
When Castignola’s grandparents, Ervin and Esther Kurtzhals, and their five children occupied the house, vegetable crops were added as a food source for the growing family. After fires destroyed barns on the property, vegetables became the prominent crop.
The farm market that stands at 27098 Sibley, just east of Inkster, began innocently enough in the 1970s when the family sold sweet corn on the weekends from a wagon on the corner of the intersection. The popularity of the wagon sales convinced the family to offer more of their land’s bountiful harvests.
Ralph Kurtzhals, the youngest son of Ervin and Esther, and Castignola’s uncle, has been overseeing the day-to-day operations of the farm since 1992, upon his mother’s death. On the afternoon the Trenton Trib visited, he was out in the fields picking a wide assortment of green beans.
“I worked here as a kid, and left for other things as soon as I got my driver’s license,” said Castignola. “After I was married, I returned part-time and once my own kids were grown, I came back full time.”
Through the years, Kurtzhals’ descendants have worked the farm, and some still maintain land, but as career options widened for subsequent generations, fewer family members were involved hands-on. Still, family and staff are dedicated to continuing the 123-year farming tradition.
Kurtzhals’ produce reaches tables throughout the metro Detroit region, purchased from the stand, as well as the Detroit Produce Terminal and Eastern Market. This means those peppers may be served at a local restaurant or sold in the produce aisle of a local grocery store.
Perhaps Grybas will be sharing her dill pickles with neighbors and friends in New York.
Just as a mother knows her baby’s cry in a room full of children, Castignola said she recognizes their produce in local grocery stores. It may only be labeled “Michigan grown,” but she knows, and is proud to be among the state’s farming community providing appreciative consumers with locally grown food.