Leelanau News and Events

How Lakeview Hill Farm Turned A Historic Schoolhouse Into The County's New Hot Market

By Craig Manning | Aug. 25, 2023

When you’re young, summer is most notable for offering a break from all things school. So, it’s ironic that one of Leelanau County’s must-visit locations this summer has been an old red schoolhouse. Then again, in an agricultural haven like northern Michigan, summer is also notable for the bounty of crops grown and sold by local farms, and for the better part of two months, one of the most popular places to score local produce in the county has been the old Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse at 8236 E. Lakeview Hills Road.

That’s thanks to Bailey Samp and John Dindia – owners and proprietors of Lakeview Hill Farm – who, on July 6, officially opened the restored schoolhouse as their first-ever full-fledged farm market. Since then, the couple have been learning the rhythms of their new retail shop – from adjusting to busier traffic to figuring out which products to stock – all while also planning what the market might look like outside of peak summer months.

Retail isn’t necessarily a new game for Samp and Dindia. The two have been running a roadside produce stand as part of Lakeview Hill Farm since 2018, and have “always talked about growing into a larger facility,” per Dindia.

“Last summer, we'd actually met with a couple of architects and builders, talking about building a brand-new commercial retail space on our existing farm,” Dindia tells the Leelanau Ticker. “But everything was coming in really expensive for building new, so we didn't really know what to do next. And then one day, we drove past the schoolhouse on the way to dinner and we saw it was for sale. We jumped on it.”

In July 2021, the Leelanau Ticker sat down with Caleb and Ashley Hermman, the previous owners of the schoolhouse. The Hermmans had purchased the property in 2019 from another family – the Brittons, who themselves had kept the historic structure in their family through generations, dating back at least to the 1890s. When the Herrmans bought the property, they restored it, telling the Leelanau Ticker that they weren't sure of their plans for space, but that it could become “an office or a studio”

But the property hit the market sooner than anyone expected, and that occurrence proved serendipitous for the owners of Lakeview Hill Farm. The schoolhouse, Dindia notes, is about 1,000 feet from the farm “driveway to driveway,” and is a spot he and Samp had eyed for their farm market long before they knew it was a feasible option.

“We had talked for years about how cool it would be to have the market in the schoolhouse,” Dindia laughs.

Getting to buy the building when they did forced Dindia and Samp to move up their schedule for launching a farm market. The fact that the space had just been restored helped make the transition easier, but there were still a few hoops left to jump through. For instance, Samp says the property needed a few adjustments – including a wider entrance – to be ADA accessible, while add-ons like shelving, a checkout counter, and a coffee bar were obvious must-haves to convert the room into a retail operation.

The extra space of the market – compared to the old Lakeview Hill Farm roadside stand – also meant diversifying the product list beyond what the farm has carried in the past. There are some rules on that front: Since the property is zoned agricultural, Elmwood Township permitted the schoolhouse building as an agricultural farm market. “That limits us, in a sense, to selling only agricultural goods, and 50 percent of the gross sales have to come from our farm specifically,” Dindia explains.

But even with those rules, the market has some leeway to operate as more than just a glorified vegetable stand. Beyond things like fresh greens, organically grown fruits and vegetables, and fresh-cut flowers, Samp says she and Dindia have been using customer feedback to add new products “nearly every day this summer.”

“We’re just finding out what the community wants and going off that,” Samp says of this summer’s learning curve. So far, that’s meant carrying Stockist coffee, pastries and bread delivered fresh from 9 Bean Rows, grab-and-go drinks and snacks, goods like honey and maple syrup, and a grocery selection that includes dairy, meat, and eggs. Salsas and dips, Samp notes, have proven to be especially popular this summer, as has a rotating array of fresh harvest local fruit – from pears to peaches to blueberries to melons.

The learning and adjustment process will continue into the off-season and into next year. One big part of that process is navigating what a farm market should look like outside of peak summer harvest season.

“In past years, we’ve always kept our self-serve farm store open year-round, and that seemed to work really well,” Samp says. “I think a lot of our shoppers are people visiting the area, but it's also a lot of neighbors and community members, and I think those customers rely on us to get their produce and groceries for the week. I'm hoping that'll hold true for the farm market as well. We’ll probably play around with our hours in the winter, but we do plan on staying open year-round.”

Also likely coming to the farm market space this fall or winter, Samp adds, is an educational component. “I think we’re going to try to host some classes here – maybe some on-farm yoga, or some flower bouquet classes,” she says. “And another thing we’d love to add is more history. People have been in over the summer and have told us things like ‘Oh, my grandma went to school here in the late 1800s,’ or ‘So-and-so was in this classroom back in the day.’ We love hearing about the history of the space. So, I don’t know if people in the community have photos or any history that they’d be willing to share, but we would love to display it in the store, if so.”

As for future summers, Samp and Dindia have plans to make the market more of a hang-out spot as it grows. “Next year, we’d love to expand our outdoor area to be more inviting to the public,” Samp says. “We’ll add a few more outdoor tables, and we’d love to have signage along the Leelanau Trail just saying that we’re here. And then, to go along with that, we’d like to have more grab-and-go lunch and snack items available, so people can stop off the TART trail and have a quick bite to eat here.”

The Lakeview Hill Farm market is currently open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm.

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