By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter
Rustic Roots Farm north of Dexter is an example of the growing trend of niche farming. The cozy farmhouse is also a great example of how one thing always leads to another.
Rustic Roots is owned by the team of wife and husband Jill and Jeff Dohner, with children Landon and Ally helping with household chores. Their farm is ten acres of fields, woods, a stream and ponds – Walden Pond and Hockey Rink Pond.
“We touch on a lot of things,” says Jill. “We are not a typical agricultural farm at all, but I can still do something sustainable here. And with so many outlets like Dexter Mill, Argus, Agricole and Acorn Market, it’s a good place for niche farming.
A big niche for Rustic Roots is bees and honey, and a good example of how one thing leads to another, which things always do. Jill’s stepfather started keeping bees 15 years ago.
“After a few years he has a lot of bees and tells us, ‘I’m going to bring bees to your farm,’” laughs Jill. “Now I manage about 50 hives,” says Jill. “Each hive has a queen and thousands of bees. A hive can produce a lot of honey if it is doing well.
If all 50 hives are healthy and buzzing, Jill can harvest 1,200 pounds of honey in one season, but beekeeping becomes increasingly difficult.
“There are a lot of things that are hurting bees right now,” says Jill. “The main problem is varroa.”
destructive varroa (Varroa) can only reproduce in colonies of honey bees. The mite attaches itself to the bee’s body and weakens it by consuming the fat deposits. The mite also transmits debilitating bee viruses. The varroa mite is one of the main causes of bee losses worldwide.
“Good beekeepers will always check varroa numbers and make sure in late fall that numbers are low enough before winter,” adds Jill.
Honey is not the only trade produced by bees at Rustic Roots. Jill sells nucs (pronounced “nukes”, short for “nucleus colony”) in the spring. Nucs are a small hive box made up of 5 frames that contain a queen, worker bees, honey frames and brood (babies). This is a hive starter kit.
Jill sells Rustic Roots honey at Dexter Mill, Dexter Bakery, Argus Farm Stop, her farm and her Etsy shop. Her newest honey project is Creamy Honey which she describes as “raw honey crystals broken down with a very smooth buttery texture but still tastes just like raw honey.”
As important as honey has become to Rustic Roots, woodworking was their first business venture. Many ash trees were on the property and the emerald ash borer struck, killing the trees. “We had to cut down so many dead and dying trees,” says Jill. “We wondered what we could do with all this wood.”
Jeff enjoys working with wood when not in his day job as an engineer. He started milling wood and making furniture in their garage. And, of course, one thing leads to the next. Now the Dohns have a carpentry shop with proper equipment to design beautiful wooden furniture, which Jeff hopes to do more of when he retires.
In tune with Rustic Roots’ “one thing leads to another” choreography, Jill’s newest venture is a greenhouse. She grows a lemon tree, a lime tree, a coffee tree, an olive tree, ginger, stevia and other plants. Jill experiments to see what settles down and then go from there.
The couple came up with the idea of removing an old fence, which led to the idea of planting a few fruit trees, which led to planting more, which led to having too much fruit, which led to selling it.
“The farming business started because we were doing it for ourselves and then had an excess,” says Jill.
Niche farming seems to be a growing trend. More and more people are adding cultivated plants to the space they have. Dexter Mill owner Keri Bushaw has seen demand rise steadily over the years.
“Fruit trees have sold out quickly over the past two years,” she says. “People are planting vegetable gardens that have never done this before. It doesn’t have to be a huge leap. It can be growing a tomato plant, having a hive of bees.
After speaking with her customers, Keri believes the trend is a result of food insecurity and an awareness of the importance of supporting the local economy.
“People have experienced some food shortages over the past couple of years,” says Keri. “It still happens. More and more people think the best way to keep the pantry stocked is to source it themselves or get it locally where it doesn’t have to navigate the supply chain. ‘supply.
“There are lots of reasons to grow your food,” says Jill. “But you don’t have to grow it yourself if you don’t want to. You can support a local farmer.