This is the story of a Midwest family farm that has been feeding our Mill City Farmers Market community for the last 18 years. Cheers to the Braucher family– here’s to many more years!
Written by Victoria Blanco
One of the greatest sources of satisfaction for the Braucher family, who own Sunshine Harvest Farm, is collecting the recipes that their clients share with them. Over the last seventeen years at the Mill City Farmers Market—this summer will mark their eighteenth—they’ve had many customers tell them about the delicious meals they have prepared with the beef, chicken, and eggs purchased at the Sunshine Harvest stand. The recipes serve as great affirmation to the Braucher family that their meat and eggs are delicious enough to keep clients coming back week after week, year after year. But more than that, it’s the relationships that the Braucher family have built over their nearly two decades at Mill City Farmers Market that give them the greatest sense of purpose.
“We’ve seen families grow up. We’ve seen couples that get married, then have a baby. And all of a sudden that baby is fourteen years old,” says Mike Braucher (above) one rainy afternoon. He’s joined by his son Brandon, who also works full-time alongside his father to run the family farm.
Today, Mike and Brandon are almost exactly where they want to be: running Sunshine Harvest and spending time with their families. But it wasn’t always this way. For years, Mike worked jobs in town. These jobs gave him the money that he needed to support his family, but they also kept him away from what he loved to do most.
Through the births of his three children, Brandon (below, seated on the tractor) worked at dairy farms and a meat processing plant. It was only after his fourth child was born, in 2013, that he was able to join his father in working full time at Sunshine Harvest.
The reason? “We got busy enough that I could finally pay him to be here,” said Mike. Even while working other jobs, Mike had worked on building relationships with clients through the network of farmers markets in the Twin Cities. Finally, the day came when he was able to quit the other work and get back to the farm, bringing his son to work with him.
“Back to the farm.” It’s a phrase that comes up several times during the course of our conversation. During the Depression, Mike’s grandfather lost his farm in North Dakota. Mike’s father Jim (below on the right), who had grown accustomed to open space, had to move into town. Even in town, the family grew produce and sold it at markets, even becoming a member of the Future Farmers of America. Eventually, Mike’s dad bought a farm, though he still had to keep his job in town. Still, his dad was able to instill in him a deep love of land and farming. Mike always knew he would spend his life trying to stay on the farm; or, if circumstances took him away, that he’d try to find a way back.
He’s on the farm now, though that doesn’t mean everything is easy. Sometimes the sheep get out. “If you have animals, they’re getting out,” said Brandon, laughing. Rounding up the animals is harder because the Braucher family rents land miles from their homes. Ideally, they would have their homes on their farm, but the acres they need are too expensive to buy, the prices driven up by salaried workers who wanted to get out of the city and work remotely. Other family-owned farms are in the same predicament, having to rent land that can be up to thirty miles away from their home. To support each other, the farmers look out for each others’ animals and fields. The farmer who lives adjacent to the land that the Braucher family rents keeps an eye on their sheep, which does a lot to alleviate the worry that they might get out and get far away before Mike and Brandon even know that something’s happened.
Sustainable practices are important to Sunshine Harvest; they don’t give their animals antibiotics or hormones, and they manage intensive grazing without using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. For the Braucher family, sustainability goes beyond farming practices. This summer, Brandon’s fourteen-year-old daughter will start selling at the stall at Mill City Farmers Market, which is perhaps one step toward keeping the family farm going into a fifth generation.
Brandon is hoping she’ll experience the sense of purpose and satisfaction that comes from running a farm that aligns with their values, and seeing how their work brings something positive to the community. “I think about the people sitting down at their tables and sharing meals, you know, from food that we’ve raised. It’s just really cool. That’s what keeps us motivated and keeps us going.”
Find Sunshine Harvest Farm in their green tent near the steps of the Guthrie each Saturday May-October, and first and third Saturdays inside the Mill City Museum Nov-April.