Success Stories Tom Cooper - Rocky Top Farms, Ellsworth | Michigan
Tom Cooper - Rocky Top Farms, Ellsworth, Michigan
Tom Cooper returned to his farming roots in the mid-1970s when he purchased Rocky Top Farms, about 220 acres of orchard land in northern Michigan. Cooper grew up on an evergreen nursery and spent several years teaching and in sales before returning to the land.
Cooper's main crop is tart cherries (Michigan leads the nation in tart cherry production) along with some sweet cherries and peaches. He began working with NRCS and Michigan State Extension immediately after he bought his farm. He worked with NRCS to determine the best locations for his fruit trees, developed a pond for wildlife and irrigation and put in windbreaks.
Over the years Cooper has also worked closely with the Extension Service. He has participated in research and served on the Michigan State University Extension and Experiment Station Council for six years. His spirit of innovation led him to process his owns jams and jellies and other fruit products in the late 1970s before value-added agriculture became a buzz word. He now is active in the local Farm to Community Connection program where area students hold farm raisers, selling locally grown agricultural products for fund raisers instead of the usual candy bars or magazine subscriptions. Through the program the students also visit local farms, including Cooper's, to learn about agriculture.
He has installed a number of conservation practices at Rocky Top Farms. Some of these practices include an agrichemical containment facility, nutrient and pest management plans, od centers located between rows of fruit trees to control erosion and add nutrients to the soil and a fuel storage facility. On his idle land he has planted 20 acres of native warm season grasses and wild flowers through the WHIP program and created a wetland area. Cooper is looking to make his operation more energy self-reliant. He has a test tower on his land to determine the feasibility of installing a wind turbine to produce electricity. For his conservation efforts he was selected as a Conservationist of the Year by the Antrim Conservation District.
Cooper also supports local land conservancy organizations. This is especially important in northwest Michigan because the area is surrounded by Lake Michigan and land is in demand for summer homes and recreational purposes. Conservation and farmland preservation are important to Cooper because he plans for his son to take over the farm after him.