Meet Your Farmer: The Sullivans

By / Photography By Pamela Parks | March 21, 2014
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Meet Your Pepper Farmers
Michael and Char at one of a number of farmers markets they attend.

A Passion that Extends Well Beyond the Peppers

Char Sullivan has a passion for produce —particularly for peppers. Her husband, Steve, understands and lets her have the pepper patch all to herself.

“There is something about picking those peppers,” Char said. “I walk that row and look for the big peppers -- they have to fill the palm of my hand before I pick them. Steve and I chuckle about it, but it is true. The pepper patch is mine; I am the only one that picks those peppers.”

Char and Steve, owners of Sully’s Produce, LLC, grow an impressive variety of produce that has fed neighbors, friends and farmer’s market visitors for years. They have had a stand at the Sturgeon Bay Farm and Craft Market on Saturdays for three decades and customers often shop their roadside farm stand — watch for the sign with the green thumb of Door County — to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The Sullivans' green thumbs grow all the traditional favorites such as strawberries, onions, peppers and potatoes to name a few, as well as trendy vegetables from kale to herbs to heirloom tomatoes.

Farming and gardening is in their blood.

“I am a second-generation farmer because my parents were farmers. What we do is a different kind of farming, but there is something to that. And it is great to see our son Michael following our agriculture practices,” Char said. “I grew up in a traditional Belgian family. We ate off the garden, canned what we could and lived off the farm. We never bought pickles from the store — we made our own. And for lunch we were often sent to the garden to dig potatoes or pick green beans.”

That upbringing instilled a desire in Char to continue to be close to the land, teach home economics to middle school students and feed others with what is grown on their family farm.

“It kind of came along and blossomed,” Char said.

Pepper Farmers
Photo 1: Michael, Char and Steve Sullivan.
Photo 2: Planting time for the Sullivans with Michael and Steve planting and Char on the tractor. Contributed photo

Fortunately, Steve was open to the idea. He worked at Bay Shipbuilding, raised cattle and hogs, and grew traditional farm crops before transitioning to produce. His interest in growing and selling produce began at a young age. “I grew up gardening; I just liked to do it,” Steve said.

Raised on his family’s cattle farm in Illinois, Steve picked and sold sweet corn and strawberries as summer income. He was quite the entrepreneur — quickly figuring out that paying 35 cents a quart to pick-your-own strawberries and then reselling the berries to local restaurants in town for 55 cents a quart was a better deal than simply picking for the grower.

Sully’s Produce began as an adventure 30 years ago when Char grew a bountiful garden. Her grandmother, Lola, encouraged her to sell some of the produce at the local farmer’s market in Sturgeon Bay. “So, I packed the stuff in the trunk ... and I was just tickled because I came home with $40. Back then, that paid a week of babysitting,” Char said.

What started as a half-acre garden has now grown into 37 acres of produce — seven of which is sweet corn — on the Sullivan’s 250-acre farm.

Over the years the Sullivans have expanded their operation with the roadside stand, a commercial kitchen, several hoop houses and a recent addition to the barn with a new drive-in cooler. Soon the Sullivans will add another market outlet when they take over “Diane’s Market” on Sturgeon Bay’s Egg Harbor Road right around strawberry season.

Meet Your Farmer

Customers can also find Sully’s Produce at the Jacksonport Farmers Market, the Settlement Shops Market in Fish Creek, and Marchant’s Meats in Sturgeon Bay. Their produce is served at local restaurants, including The Cookery in Fish Creek.

Char has a line of homemade baked and canned goods including quick breads, jams, jellies and pies. Four years ago, she also started growing flower and vegetable plants. The greenhouse opens before Mother’s Day.

“It is a very rewarding and very pleasing business to be in; it just makes you happy,” Char said. “I am proud to be someone’s producer and grower ... It makes me feel good.”

The Sullivans' two sons, Shawn and Michael, grew up helping on the farm. After graduating from college, Michael returned to the family business and shares in the farm work, helps at the markets, and handles marketing. Sully’s Produce will become his business one day — but Char and Steve won’t be leaving the fields any time soon. They enjoy the work they do and know it is important to the people who purchase and eat what they grow.

And besides, no one else is allowed to pick those bountiful peppers.

Steve and Char Sullivan, owners of Sully’s Produce, LLC at 7054 County Road C in Sturgeon Bay. (920) 743-9391, and follow them on Facebook.

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