“Northern Initiatives helped us manage securing our loan, putting ‘money in the bank.’ We can already see the fruits of that, after only two short months, by the growth in our payroll. And that’s good for our entire community.” – Vicki Zilke, owner
Growing is what Tom and Vicki Zilke do best. The pair started their farm, Zilke Vegetable Farm in Milan, Michigan in 2009, with a passion for offering real food in their community. They opened a farm stand on Carpenter Road in 2011, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables and the ability to purchase CSA shares to customers.
The idea of opening a second location in town (in a building with running water and heat!) with a commercial kitchen has been a dream of Vicki’s for several years. The Zilke’s received start-up funding from the Michigan Good Food Fund in partnership with Northern Initiatives. With these resources, they were able to purchase the former Schultz Bottled Gas building in 2017, and Zilke Vegetable Farm grew another branch, Zilke Farm Kitchen.
Zilke Farm Kitchen is designed to feel like a home kitchen and pantry. It’s stocked with a large selection of healthy, local ingredients ready to assemble into a quick and delicious meal. The new business makes it easy for customers to bring real food into their homes, giving them a head-start on meal preparation. Vicki says, “We really just want to have satisfying and delicious dishes that are simple to create and prepared with love.”
Tom and Vicki are proud to align their business with The Michigan Good Food Fund (MGFF). Vicki notes that “MGFF is ahead of the curve in their work to bring the principles of good food to Michigan communities.” As part of the disbursement of funds, Northern Initiatives offers practical resources to small businesses, providing skills for success.
Vicki utilized Northern Initiatives’ online learning portal to get the business up and running, particularly appreciating the concise format of the marketing analysis segment. Northern Initiatives then worked with her to create a beautiful website for Zilke Farm Kitchen.
A Northern Initiatives Business Coach met weekly, via webinar, to search and select the right platform for Zilke Farm Kitchen’s website. The conceptual work on the website was collaborative, with Northern Initiatives building the backend, where Vicki did not have the expertise. “I feel confident our website is now prepared to expand as our business grows exponentially in the future,” says Vicki.
Opening Zilke Farm Kitchen allowed the Zilke’s to extend the business season from four months of the year to over nine months. They receive ongoing business support from Northern Initiatives staff. Vicki adds, “Northern Initiatives helped us manage securing our loan, putting ‘money in the bank.’ We can already see the fruits of that, after only two short months, by the growth in our payroll. And that’s good for our entire community.”