Bakers gonna bake….

Our blog this week is written by my daughter, Tressa Moelker. Hope you enjoy it!  Tom.

I am always really excited when fruit season comes around because that means I get to start baking again! Baking started as my hobby and a way for me to relax. Now I get to do it every day as my job and I love it. Making the donuts and other goodies is fun, but I also love to see the smile on customer’s faces when they taste something I have made. It makes all of the long hours I spend in the bakery worthwhile.

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pc: Mindy Beck

This spring I graduated from college and I immediately started to experiment with new baked goods. Pies and breads were my focus. And my family had to taste it all. What a hard job :).

Finally, when I had narrowed it down to a few recipes, I invited a bunch of family and friends over to do a taste testing. It was a really fun time and it was a good way to get honest feedback about the pies. Now I have selected the best recipes and I am ready to start making them for you to try! This Saturday we are going to be having a bakery open house. We will be serving samples of the pie. They will also be available to buy frozen, so all you have to do is take them home and pop them into the oven. The added bonus is that you get to fill your home with the aroma of fresh baked pie!

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During all of this experimenting we also took time to expand our bakery. We needed more space to make the pies as well as our new Dutch Apple Bread. We are glad to be finished with the construction and are loving the new space. Make sure you come in this Saturday to check it all out and to get your taste of the pie!

As always, have a fruitful week!
Tressa Moelker

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Christmas reflections

It is just a few days before Christmas. I don’t know why, but this week always marks the passage of a year for me. Even more so than the Old Year’s/New Year’s celebration. The busy Christmas shopping at our market and bakery, the making of fruit baskets, gift baskets, and boxes for shipping, all ends at Christmas Eve. After all the anticipation of the holidays and the frenzy of shopping and shipping deadlines, the last customer has been helped and it seems too quiet, too calm. What lies ahead now is a long winter of tree pruning, a very solitary task.

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I enjoy the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We settle into a holiday season where our usual selling of apples is punctuated by unique requests for special gifts for friends and family, both near and far away. It is fun to interact and imagine someone opening a box of Honeycrisp apples in Texas, or a salsa sampler in Colorado. Or a business associate receiving a gift basket of goodies from the bakery and market. I guess that bringing joy to people is what gives me a lot of satisfaction throughout the season.

When I was young, Christmas was a time of such excitement and anticipation! As a kid I probably didn’t think so much about giving gifts as I did getting them. And it was so fun to get to Christmas day! What would be under the tree? We rarely knew what was coming, and that made it all the more fun! Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, or a new Flexible Flyer sled, how much better could it get? Even the new blue jeans, dark, dark blue and so stiff that they would almost stand up by themselves (and abrasive to wear for the first couple weeks!) Winter boots, hats, or mittens were a staple too. And all were thoroughly tested out before the day’s end.

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Now that I am older, I think the giving part is more fun. Maybe that’s why I like to work in the market in December. Whenever someone leaves holding a gift basket or box, I feel a little like I’m giving it too. What fun! Whoever said it more blessed to give than receive was right. And I’ll bet they were older too.

I hope this Christmas is a joyful one for all of you. I hope that whatever your circumstances, you get to treasure time together with family and friends, giving and receiving and sharing with one another. And I hope that together we all celebrate and receive the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. Because besides being the reason we celebrate this time of year, He is the best example of giving and receiving that we could ever have.

Merry Christmas! And have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Back to school?

Winter looks like it’s finally setting in. It has been a beautiful fall season that lasted longer than usual. But now it is December and what’s a farmer to do? Well an older gentleman who happens to be a  fruit grower like me once told me: “Winter is time for learning”. I’ll never forget that. This man has probably forgotten more about fruit farming than I will ever know, and still he takes advantage of learning opportunities well into his 80’s. That should set an example for all of us.

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A car wash? No, an over-the-row blueberry picker!

This week we have been attending the Great Lakes Expo down at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. It is a 3 day trade show dedicated to fruit, vegetable, and greenhouse farmers and is attended by over 4,000 people from the growing community. Besides a huge equipment show with over 450 exhibitors, there are more than 70 workshops and education sessions on a wide variety of topics. Everything from the latest technology to new marketing opportunities are on display here. Not only are there tractors and specialized equipment, big and small, from clever designers who are often farmers themselves, but also high-tech computer apps and hardware to make everything more accurate. Bumblebees(packaged of course) and brush choppers, apple slicers and website builders, irrigation systems and frost fans, if it has to do with farming, it is represented at the Expo. It really is amazing!

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That’s one big tractor! Note the regular sized tractor parked underneath it!

Our whole family attends the show, and we all are able to take some new knowledge away from the experience. Often it serves to renew our excitement looking toward next season with new ideas to try out and tweaks to things we are already doing. It makes us better at what we do! And I think sometimes we learn as much from our conversations with other growers as we do from the formal education sessions. I am always impressed at how farmers, generally a pretty independent bunch, are also a tightly knit community willing to share their knowledge of the trade with their peers. And at an event like this it is evident as groups of people from around the country and the world discuss and share ideas to make better growers of all of us. Pretty heartwarming! I’ve been attending this event since the late 1970’s, when it was held in the basement of the old Civic Auditorium, and each year I meet new people and old friends.

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Back to school! a seminar on the latest orchard planting systems.

So my 80 something year old friend is right. For us winter is time for learning. And planning. Because I’ve also heard it said:”If you stop learning, you better stop farming”. That probably is true of many things in life.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Guest Blog: Tressa Moelker

The seasons are changing rapidly now. The temperature is dropping and the sun isn’t staying up as long anymore. The days are getting shorter and things may be slowing down on the farm, but in the bakery we are still going strong. We’re making fresh donuts every day and bringing our fudge to craft sales on the weekends. Craft sales are a fun way to get off the farm for a while to sell our products and meet new people. Our employees enjoy those days too!

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Courtney showing off our display at the Jenison Christian craft sale

We also did a fudge fundraiser this year with a local high school. It was extremely successful and we are rushing to get 300 pounds of fudge orders filled. The nice part with fudge is that we can make it a few days ahead of time, unlike donuts. With donuts, we make them all the same day that we sell them to you. This is what causes the 3 o’clock mornings on Saturdays in October. We don’t mind though because the happy customer’s smiles are plenty of a reward for the early mornings. You may be wondering how many donuts we make on those busy Saturdays. Our biggest day was about 3,800 donuts! All with a little machine that puts out a maximum of 28 dozen an hour. Thankfully, I have a lot of dedicated and caring employees (and family members) that are willing to put in the hours with me to make sure everything gets done. Whether it’s coming into the bakery early to mix donut batter for me, or coming back out after hours to make apple dumplings!

img_2694Travis and I making dumplings and cookies on a Friday night

We enjoy those busy days, but it certainly is nice to be able to “sleep in” until 5:30 now on Saturday mornings. The slightly slower days provide rest and the ability to get caught up on things in the bakery that I wasn’t able to get done during the craziness in October. Which in turn helps me prepare for the busy holiday season ahead!

Have a sweet week!
Tressa Moelker

How good can come from bad.

Sometimes people react to adverse situations in unpredictable ways. In 2012, we lost our entire crop to multiple spring frosts. Some folks would have given up. Some would have taken the opportunity to take a vacation in the summer months for once (unheard of for a fruit farmer). Some might have taken a temporary job. We built a bakery.

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Now this wasn’t completely unplanned. For about 5 years we had talked about doing it someday. And in January, long before the frosts came, we made the decision to go ahead with the project. Later, when the crops froze, it opened up more time for us to work on the project. Funny how providence works sometimes. Over the next few months we began to accumulate some of the bakery equipment that we would need to accomplish our goals.Various pieces came from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and all around the great state of Michigan! As the weeks after the frost went on, two stalls of our then garage were slowly transformed and expanded to become the shell of what was to come–the Old Bell Bakery. With the help of friends and family we completely remodeled the building, adding more storage room and a rest room to our market too. We learned a lot about building, electrical wiring, plumbing  and making things look good (after messing them up the first time)! I think that we took some of it apart and put it back together so many times we could do it in our sleep!

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The girls got some great baking advice and experience from good friend Roger Ondersma, a long time bakery operator. And we got to enjoy a lot of trial runs of cookies, donuts and pastries as they perfected their technics!

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So as we begin our bakery’s fifth year, it’s fun to look back at how it all began. We love the excitement that our customers have about opening up for a new season! And I have to admit that it is nice to be able to pop in for a fresh donut and coffee at break time…or any time for that matter! Not many people can walk across the yard and do that! (all in moderation of course). And this season Tressa has added Grandma M’s Sugar Cookies, a tasty salute to her Grandma Moelker using Donna’s tried and true home made recipe! Looking back now, it’s neat to see how a leap of faith can turn into something wonderful. And how with the support of family, friends and great customers, a dream can become reality.

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A rare photo of Tom and Travis in aprons! With Abby and Tressa

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker