The History of Shooks Farms
The Man and Woman Who Started it All (First Generation)
Sylvester was born in North Blendon, Michigan, on October 17, 1885, the son of Jan Pieters and
Wytske Hoogland Sjoeks. In 1896 Vet moved with his parents and brothers to a farm in Antrim
County Michigan, between Shooks road and Ellsworth Rd, maybe one-two miles from where the
farm sits today. Vet married in 1911 to a woman named Katherine Aardema of Englewood, Illinois.
And let us tell you something, he worked for her... They met in Northern Michigan but she lived in
Engelwood, so there was some distance to travel. Vet used to write letter, post cards and send
pictures of himself to her, but apparently she did not respond as often as he would have liked!
So what was his solution? Take a train down to Illinois and bring her back! And that is exactly what
he did. The Sjoeks family attended Atwood Reformed Church in which they traveled, via horse
and buggy/sleigh, which was a distance of about four miles one way. Each Sunday they would pass
by property owned by Guy Morse on the corner of Bennett Hill Road and what is now known as
Shooks Road (where the farm currently sits today.) Vet was especially impressed with the land on
the SW corner of that intersection and commented about how well some wild cherry trees grew
there and how much fruit they produced. He said that his dream was to one day own that property.
Well, then in 1914 Vet and Tena purchased the 59.2 acre farm from Guy and started his dream and called it Bay View Farms.
As Vet and Tina neared retirement age, it became apparent that two of
their sons showed interest in purchasing the farm. In 1962 Versal and
Christine (VanStedum) Shooks along with Marvin and Doris (Wynsma)
Shooks officially became the owners of what would be named Shooks Bros.
Farms. Both Vers and Marv had unique talents well suited for the farming
industry. To put it simply Vers was, “clever” there wasn’t anything he
couldn’t build, (or fix) if he had a welder and a pile of old iron. To go along
with that he had a “transit” eye which allowed him to plant some of the
straightest corn rows in the county. Marv was the marketer, he bought
and sold the cattle as well as handled the duties of the ever-expanding
cherry orchards. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that behind
every successful man is a strong woman. Both Chris and Doris were no
exception. They ran the u-pick cherry and asparagus business and would
pitch in on the dreaded cherry-grading belt. Since cherries did indeed grow
well on the property it was decided to plant more, this of course was done with a shovel. As the trees grew and began producing cherries it was quickly noted that there was a great need for help to pick the fruit. It was a yearly struggle to find and maintain pickers. One year it got so bad that Marv contacted the sheriff, drove the cattle truck to Charlevoix, bailed out some of the inmates and drove them back to pick the fruit. Try that in today’s society and see how fast you make the evening news!! The brothers remedied that in the late 60s by being one of the first in the area to try a new kind of mechanical harvester. It was a Rube Goldberg contraption that mounted to a tractor, had large tarps, and metal pans. They bragged that it could harvest a tree in less than 5 minutes (In comparison today we do about three trees/minute.) Not only that, but it didn’t get tired nor did it get drunk on Friday night. Cherries were only a part of what the farm raised. It was during this period when they came up with the logo of the 3 C’s which stood for cherries, cattle and corn. The cattle were raised to their finished weight then sold to the market or to the general public. At that time, you could buy a side or a quarter beef, have it butchered at John Burns slaughter house in Ellsworth or have it cut up and packaged at the Atwood shopping center in Atwood. As the business grew so did the need to update the barns. It was in 1978 that the decision was made to tear down Vets old barn. While Drenth Bros. were bulldozing the barn over Marv summed it up by saying “ I know its progress, but I feel like crying”. Yes, Vets old barn is gone destined to be a foggy memory from a distant time……….or is it!!!???
Before we get started into the 3rd generation, I thought it might be fun to give
you a little-known fact about them. For instance, did you know the young boys
had their own basketball team? Extra credit will be given if you know the name
of the team. Yes, it’s true, inside of Vets old barn the three boys built a
basketball court complete with painted floor, benches, and a sign welcoming
you to Shooks Stadium. Many hours were spent there honing their talents as
well as their friendship. A more complete rendition of this story can be found
by going to the Shooks farm web page.
The year was 1987. The Cosby show was America’s favorite television program,
while the radio stations all played The Bangles No 1 hit, Walk like an Egyptian.
This also was the year when the torch was passed to the 3rd generation of the
Shooks family to own and operate Shooks Farm. Early on it became apparent
that Bryan, Dale and Daryl were destined to be farmers, I guess it’s something
that can’t necessarily be explained other than genetics, its in your blood. Bryan
is the son of Vers and Chris Shooks, while Dale and Daryl are the sons of Marv
and Doris Shooks.
When the cousins took over the farm they were determined to build off the
successful formula of Cherries, Cattle and Corn. During this time period
buildings were built, land was purchased, more land was rented. This allowed for
a more than tripling of production from the previous generation. Once again,
each member had their respective areas of expertise. Bryan enjoyed doing
mechanic work as well as field preparation and corn harvest. Dale was the cattle man always buying, selling and overseeing the cattle, as well as the planting in the spring. Daryl enjoyed the cherry business and the responsibilities that came with it. It was almost like having 3 businesses in one, however all came together when it was harvest time. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes cruel, and our farm was not immune to it. Tragically Dale passed away in 2005 after a bout with cancer. He was only 50. If Bryan and Daryl did not have the 4th generation looking over their shoulders that may have been the end of the story. Thankfully it wasn’t.
Shortly thereafter, one of the major focuses of the farm was to embrace the environmental aspects of being stewards of the land. Shooks Farm Co. LLC. was one of only a handful of farms in northern Michigan to voluntarily comply with the new MAEAP program. Which stands for Michigan agricultural environmental assurance program. This helps assure the public (and ourselves) that we are doing all we can to protect our environment. We were rewarded for our efforts in 2011 when it was announced that Shooks Farms was the only farm chosen to win the prestigious Michigan Farm Bureau Agricultural Ecology Award.
Fast forward to 2014. That was the year the farm celebrated its 100th anniversary. Preparation began a year earlier to ensure that this would be a major event. All family members got involved from the very young to the … well, I don’t want to say very old, but let’s just say the senior members. All the hard work and dedication paid great dividends as it turned out to be a spectacular celebration attended by family, friends, community and several dignitaries including a visit by Gov. Snyder a short time later. The day was beautiful. More than once my eyes would tear up with the thoughts of Vet, Vers, Marv, and Dale as they “peeked down through the fields of green”. I would like to think they were proud.
Much has changed in the past 3 generations; however one constant remains, and that is family. Without family there would be no Shooks Farms, we would have been a “one and done”. Family strengthens each other and helps each other through the hard times as well as the good. Family is the very thread by which this group is so tightly woven.
Next week we will meet the future owners of the farm and talk about what the fourth generation has in store.
Let’s start the fourth generation by saying there are 6,087
centennial farms in the state of Michigan; that seems like a lot
right? Sesquicentennial farms, only 588… as for bicentennial…
four… Four bicentennial farms in the state of Michigan! That’s
pretty dreadful news if you’re in our shoes! Within the next 100
years of their start, 6,083 farms were lost. What typically happens
is lack of interest from the emerging generations, or let’s not deny
it, debt overwhelms the farm and everything has to be sold off just
to pay the bank back. That’s the joy of farming; you live and die by
the weather… Great Grandpa Shooks used to say “If we could
control the weather, we’d be millionaires.”
The goal for the fourth generation; plain and simple… Don’t lose
the farm. Haha! Just kidding, but seriously, we realize that the
past generations have worked too hard to watch it stay stagnate or
crumble. In the past five years the fourth generation (Rj, Greg and Rob) have been taking more responsibility: we have put in a receiving station for cherries, a warehouse (Shooks Ag Warehouse) where we supply you with everything from chemicals to seed to fertilizer, a new grain silo where we can better play the market, a house which you can rent out on Airbnb and live “The Farm Experience,” and last but not least we’re starting a winery, Cellar 1914.
Yes, you read that correct, a winery. Now if you have been paying attention to history facebook… what year did the farm start? 1914, hence the name Cellar 1914. We want to showcase the history of the farm from everything we have done for the past 100+ years. From the potatoes generations before us used to grow, asparagus, cattle, cherries, wine grapes, corn, soybeans, peaches, apples, hay, pigs… you name it, one generation has probably tried to grow it. And for some reason, we have kept a lot of that equipment around, not sure why…
Renovations have already started for the “campus” we will be having in the near future. Here is a quick rundown of what is going to happen. “The south lot” which used to be our finishing lot for cattle, will be turned into a production facility for wine and will include a temporary tasting room. The large “north lot” building along with two silo’s will be removed to make way for our tasting room. And we have hinted towards that as well, the old barn that Great Grandpa Shooks built will be constructed again, complete with the basketball court lines on the floor. West of these facilities we will be planting more grapes, (Frontenac Gris and Marquette) and we will even have a spot for you to have your wedding out in the vineyard while you overlook cherry blossoms and Lake Michigan.
There is more in the works, but we cannot share everything that we have in store! But for now that is a quick rundown of what the fourth generation has planned for Shooks Farms, and now Cellar 1914. Each of us would like to thank our wives for putting up with the countless hours, sleepless nights, raising four, three and twin children on their own 90% of the time and working full times jobs themselves, we’re not sure how they do it, but they’re doing a tremendous job, thank you Mishelle Shooks, Jenny Shooks, Keegan Shooks.
Thanks for taking the time to read these, they have been fun to write and hear stories and connections being made through these. We even learned about an olive farm in Italy, I believe it was that was in their tenth generation… We can only dream and hope that the future generations will be talking about what we are doing during this day and time.
Rob, Greg and Rj