Ross and Jordan Bremer stand in their 'U-pick' sunflower field

Alumni brothers plant 'U-pick' sunflower field to raise spirits during pandemic

Brothers Ross and Jordan Bremer, alumni of the Seidman College of Business, were looking for a way to bring joy to their community during the COVID-19 pandemic. They leveraged their years of farming experience to plant a 'U-pick' sunflower field near the Allendale Campus.

"We believe that sharing flowers with the community is a great way to encourage and spread joy amidst a difficult season," said Ross, '19.

The brothers work in the sunflower field on a sunny day.
Valerie Hendrickson
A sunflower in a field.
Valerie Hendrickson
The Bremer brothers play cornhole on their family farm
Valerie Hendrickson

Bremer Produce planted more than 15 varieties of sunflowers on their grandfather's farm, located in Ottawa County off of 48th Avenue in Hudsonville. The brothers estimate they'll have over 120,000 flowers by the end of this season, four times more than last year.

The Bremers are no novices to farming. For their day job, they work at a West Michigan farm where they focus on selling imperfect produce and reducing food waste. 

"My first year I started working on the farm, I noticed so much food waste. It's really common across the agriculture industry to have to discard less than perfect product. The volume of product being thrown away is really astounding," said Jordan, '13.

Imperfect produce is defined as food items that don't meet standards of size, shape or appearance. The Bremers noted this produce may not meet standards of grocery stores or distributors and are often thrown away, but most are perfectly edible. 

After realizing how much produce was being wasted, the brothers launched a small roadside stand to sell the imperfect items. As interest grew, they've been able to expand to partnering with farms across the country. 

Some of the imperfect produce is utilized in various box meal delivery services, and more damaged items are sent to farms as animal feed. 

Ross said that annually, millions of pounds of imperfect produce from their farm are saved from going to waste through these practices. 

"The awareness is growing. People are becoming more educated about not having to have a perfectly shaped pepper or carrot every single time. It all tastes the same, and I'm hoping that more companies embrace using this imperfect produce in the future," said Jordan.

For Ross and Jordan, their work with saving imperfect produce aligns perfectly with their reasoning behind starting the sunflower field: It's all about connecting communities with nature. 

For those wanting to stroll through the sunflower field, it is now open, with peak bloom for the sunflowers being in August. The public can pick their own sunflowers any time for $1 a stem through mid-September. The farm is located at 5845 48th Ave., Hudsonville, MI.

Sunflowers in shadow with a sunset behind them.
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson