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Side Step Farms Owners Enact Long-term Plan in Michigan

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Molly (left) and Megan Marsteller, owners of Side Step Farms, have an apiary, organic market garden and greenhouse that grows Michigan native perennials.

Megan and Molly (Guthrie) Marsteller came from disparate backgrounds — Megan had an urban upbringing in Ohio, while Molly grew up on a small farm and contributed to their family business, Flowers of the Field, in Michigan.

Upon high school graduation both made the commitment to serve on active duty during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in support of the Global War on Terrorism. A few years into the enlistment, Megan and Molly met in the II Marine Expeditionary Force while stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Though they’ve been married for eight years now, Megan reminisced on proposing to Sgt. Guthrie — Molly’s rank at the time — in an MV-22 Osprey with a 1½-inch conduit locknut found in the cockpit.

Today, they own and operate Side Step Farms, a diversified no-till and regenerative-focused farm on the dividing line of Scottville and Pentwater, Michigan. It was recently certified by the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

Side Step Farms’ mission is to support the long-term viability of agriculture in Mason and Oceana counties by facilitating a sustainable food source, increasing native biodiversity, and educating local residents on the importance of ecological land management.

Megan is a first-generation farmer who currently serves as the Project Management Director at American Farmland Trust (AFT) and manages the administrative aspects of the limited liability company, livestock/pasture welfare, hay production, and lean waste reduction-initiatives as a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

Growing up in the city, Megan was never prompted with an opportunity to explore the agricultural trade nor learn about societal/ecological challenges that faced the more rural areas of Ohio.

“For me, my only experience was the annual County Fair where, as you can imagine, livestock were my biggest interest,” Megan said.

Molly is a third-generation flower farmer and Michigan State University (MSU) certified Master Gardener who chose to resign from her extensive career in information security to work full time on the farm.

She manages the day-to-day operations of the apiary, organic market garden and Michigan native perennial greenhouse. Owning and operating a farm for Molly was something she always saw herself doing, she said.

“My mother used to say this just made sense for me, because when I was just 2 weeks old she would put me in a sling, hop on the back of a transplanter, and off we went to drop plugs in the field!” Molly said.

Megan said when they purchased the farm in 2019, “we had what some would say, too many optimistic ideas on how to optimize the compound, fields and unmanaged forest” with the first phase including infrastructure improvements such as revitalizing a barn built in 1901, building a 30-by-120-foot greenhouse, integrating around 18 acres of fencing for livestock, and more.

While developing this diverse operation that included Michigan native perennials, organic produce/no-till garden, hay/rotational grazing, apiary/honey, chickens/eggs, and other livestock like horses and cattle, this prompted Megan to comment, If you side-step anywhere on this farm you’ll be in a whole new venture! After that, the name just kind of stuck, there was no changing it.”

Fellowship Fund

Megan and Molly received a Fellowship Fund grant from the Wounded Warrior Project in 2023, which enabled them to purchase much-needed compost to help heal the soil.

“Our fields have been under conventional row crop management for decades, and when we tried to break the cycle of tilling the soil, our clay fields quickly turned to concrete,” Megan said. “This compost allowed us to expand the production area in our organic market garden without having to allow them to sit fallow for another year with cover crops.”

When asked about what they enjoy about farming, Molly said, “the best, and sometimes the worst, part of farming is that there is always something to do. Every day is different and provides a unique set of challenges that only you can figure out a solution for.”

Megan compared farming to the military: “It’s a lot like the Marine Corps,” she said, “though I’d never recommend bringing a pitchfork to combat nor wearing a flak and kevlar as bug protection in the market garden. Farming gives you an irreplaceable sense of camaraderie while testing that engrained ‘adapt and overcome’ mindset to tactfully pivot when the situation and/or climate changes.”

Challenges

Molly is currently the only full-time operator on the farm, leveraging her coursework from the Market Gardener Institute.

Due to her full-time commitment to AFT, Megan works on the farm after work, on weekends, and most importantly, spends her vacation days with Molly at the local farmers markets and/or making deliveries to various organizations such as the Lakeshore Food Club, a non-profit grocery store for low-income families. Thus, capacity has been the biggest challenge for Side Step Farms, they said.

“We’ve had to prioritize everything based on financial stability, risk strategy and of course, unexpected urgencies while keeping our 10-year plan in mind,” Megan said. “Unfortunately, there are just not enough hours for a single person to manage the daily operations of a rapidly growing farm!”

Molly added, “Most of our collective time is spent actively working on or thinking about how to efficiently evolve the farm, which luckily, we enjoy every minute of it as it equates to supporting a sustainable future in our local community. Although, we do foresee adding additional support as a priority in the near future.”

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