Family expands farm, launches Backyard Burdickville campground, brings back music festival
Jim and Kelly Lively began their life together in the 1990s. They raised four daughters on a five-acre parcel of what was many years ago the Bow Farm—originally about a 200-acre plot with orchards, horses, and who knows what else—above Burdickville.
When the two met, Kelly was on the land and an elected official in Leelanau County. After considering other ideas, they decided to stay on the rural piece of land, and Jim would commute to his Traverse City job. By the late ‘90s, Kelly determined she was better off at home and truly happiest when working outside, particularly with flowers. Eventually, about one-third of an acre was fenced and worked to grow flowers, which Kelly managed and sold at first at farmers’ markets, but eventually she became a designer for weddings and special events.
For several years, Kelly operated the one-woman farm called Leelanau Flowers at The Lively Gardens. In 2009, she fell into a part time job with Cherry Capital Foods and began working on her passion to build a local food system. By 2010, she had gone full time and the challenge of farming, designing with long weekends of work, and a family were too much, so she suspended the Leelanau Flowers business.
By then, the garden had been fenced quite beautifully, the soil was rich in compost, and everything was weeded with care. But nature took over the show and slowly but surely quack grass and other annual weeds encroached and dominated. A corner of the garden continued to be tended by Kelly’s sister, who kept a productive garden there for nearly 20 years.
Eventually, third daughter Jane took charge of a few beds during the summer to grow cutting flowers for the roadside farm stand, and in 2015, Jim and Jane raised four pigs in a section of the garden, making a significant dent in the plant population in that area. But, truly, much of the garden was fallow and growing some of the healthiest weeds around.
In 2017, Jane relocated to the Lively property and sought to re-establish the entire fenced-in lot for growing vegetables and, of course, flowers. She offered vegetables weekly to community members but mostly continued dreaming up the future of the space.
The scent of cinnamon suffuses the air. Is this a spice shop? A tea emporium? Nope, it is Jane Lively’s hoop house shed for sprouting seedlings. Dozens of plastic pots line the shelves, all sprinkled with the red spice that kills any bacteria in the soil, thus enhancing germination. It is just one more sign of the phenomenal growth occurring within the Lively family’s many new business ventures that include The Lively Farm, the Backyard Burdickville Campground, and the next rendition of LivelyLands weekend music festival, coming back this August after a COVID-hiatus in 2020.
Jane started The Lively Farm by creating a CSA and selling shares four years ago, in 2018. There were eight takers. The next year, there were 15; 25 the next; and now there are 50 shares spoken for. CSA, or “community supported agriculture,” is a common model on small farms that connects the farmer and customer in a unique way. Customers buy “shares” of a farm’s harvest in advance and then receive a portion of the crops as they are harvested later in the year. This model provides farmers important early-season capital and a guaranteed market for their produce.
Jane runs the vegetable growing, processing, distributing, and she is in a business partnership with her parents. But Jane’s ambition does not stop there. Her flowers and produce are also sold at the Empire Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and at the Grow Benzie Market on Mondays. Plus, Jane has an initiative to help feed “10 or more” local migrant families.
“We are still raising funds for these community-supported shares,” Jane explains. “These shares are going to migrant folks involved in local farm work and families in need of assistance in the Glen Lake school system. These shares will be free to families designated by the Migrant Resource Council (MRC) and professionals at Glen Lake Community Schools—and recipients will be welcomed into the farm community wholeheartedly as full-fledged members. We have plans to get together monthly with the MRC folks to cook and eat a meal together, and we’ll provide recipes and ideas for meals to create with the produce shared each week.”
Through her mission of trying to make food accessible to all, Jane reached out to social worker Amy Johnson-Velis at Glen Lake School, where she helped to form a committee to offer community-supported shares to those facing food insecurity.
Jane’s mother, Kelly Lively, adds that there will also be flowers and some potatoes and squash available at the family’s newest endeavor, run by oldest Lively sister Emily: Backyard Burdickville Campground along M-72. Formerly the Eagles Meadow, the Livelys purchased the campground and event space last year and have already started planting trees and growing flowers and vegetables on the site.
After living in Austin, Texas, and after working for seven years in the office at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festival, Emily moved back to Burdickville a couple of years ago with her husband, Robert, and their daughter, Shirley. Then along came baby Arthur Felo to join the family recently.
“Backyard Burdickville is our name for the seasonal camping and event venue at the old Eagles Meadow. We have 15 rustic campsites for $25 per night for up to four people, and right now there is plenty of availability,” Emily explains. “And we have a cool, round, glamping tent that we plan to list for rent soon for $75 per night with two double beds and plenty of space inside. It’s like a little tented hotel room. We are allowed to have three large events per year right now, and we are awaiting Kasson Township’s approval to allow rental of the facility for smaller events, like family reunions, weddings, birthday parties, and intimate, seated, indoor concerts.”
The family is busy re-thinking the facilities to accommodate more events and music.
“There is a kitchen space already that provides caterers a place to provide food for weddings and reunions,” Emily says. “And we hope to enclose a 40-foot by 30-foot area of the garage for small indoor events that will include a small stage, so that we can have year-round events. That and a shower/bathroom facility for campers will require a septic system, so we’re working on plans and permits for all of that.”
In 2017, the first summer that Emily was back in Burdickville, she organized a small local music festival called LivelyLands. The first one was held at the family farm on South Bow Road; the next year was moved to the field next to Dave’s Garage, near the Empire Airport along County Road 677; the third year, it was held behind the buildings at the Eagles Meadow, before the Livelys purchased the property. Then the festival took a one-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks in part to a successful $18,000 Kickstarter campaign that just ended, this year’s LivelyLands will be staged at Backyard Burdickville on August 20-22. Featured acts will include Austin artist Dana Falconbury*, who has an album entitled Leelanau, and a trio consisting of Gregory Stovetop, Seth Bernard, and Mark Lavengood all on Friday. Joshua Davis, Emma Cook, and the Detroit funk/soul band Laura Rain & the Caesars all play on Saturday; and the Mark Lavengood Blue Grass Jam finishes off the festival with an acoustic jam and songwriters’ circle with breakfast tacos on Sunday. Former local Pete Wiejaczka will be home from his career providing sound for arena concerts all over the country to set up sound gear and turn the knobs; Maria Ulrich from The Leelanau Sound will help out again as the stage manager; and Emily’s close friend from Austin, Jason Weems, will again bring his resonant radio voice to the emcee duties.
A talented singer-songwriter in her own right, Emily has created a production company—Lively Productions—that is “dedicated to assuring that at least 50 percent of our acts are female-fronted bands.”
Jim and Kelly Lively still both have full-time, off-farm jobs, though they are heavily involved in many aspects of the farm—financially, logistically, physically, and emotionally. They plan to join the farm more full time after retirement, and they are excited to see the future of their Lively Land. With the help and guidance of Jim and Kelly, the entire Lively family is busy on many fronts creating and sustaining community.
Those wishing to make contributions toward food shares for local migrant families can reach out via the TheLivelyFarm.com website online. Backyard Burdickville Campground is located at 3805 W Empire Hwy/M-72, just east of Gilbert Road; that is where The Lively Farm CSA members will pick up their shares this year on Thursdays. Visit HipCamp.com to learn more about the campground. Tickets, information, and opportunities to volunteer and to contribute for the August music festival can be found at TheLivelyLands.com online.
*Dana Falconbury recently moved to Northern Michigan and owns the Roll Model food truck, seen at Grow Benzie, the Frankfort Farmers’ Market, and various other nearby locales. A future article in The Betsie Current will be dedicated to her and this business.
A version of this article first published in the Glen Arbor Sun, a Leelanau County-based semi-sister publication to The Betsie Current.
Featured Photo Caption: Jane Lively is raising funds for community supported agriculture shares to help feed 10 or more local migrant families. The Lively family has been working to expand their business offerings, including the farm CSA, a campground, and a music festival. Photo by Robert Chacon.