Bella Harvest, nestled comfortably inside the southwest corner of the new Lansing City Market, works with several local organic farmers to offer an array of organic produce, from kale and lettuce to asparagus and sweet corn.
“This is really a dream come true for my wife and me. We had always looked at something we could work together on and this is it. We love working together. We sure see more of each other than when we worked separate jobs,” Nichols says.
Nichols and his wife, Karen, operate side-by-side booths at Lansing City Market. Along with Bella Harvest, the local couple owns Riverside Studios, which displays and sells wearable art. The couple creates the silver and glass pieces at their home studios in Dimondale.
Kevin’s work experience was mostly in retail before starting the family business, while his wife is a former firefighter.
“We started the art booth first at old Lansing City Market in 2008. Then we had some friends who are organic farmers approach us about selling their produce. They were so wrapped up in growing it they had no time to sell it,” Nichols says.
The new, 11,000-square-foot Lansing City Market is bright and airy and an improvement over the old digs, Nichols says, with more of an urban feel that will be good for business.
“I love it here. The move was great. I think people just lost interest in the old building. They stopped coming. Our business has doubled since we opened here in January,” he said. “The plaza is beautiful along the river. And I think the majority of our customers do like the new building despite having mixed feelings when we opened. I know the vendors love this place. At least we were warm though the winter!”
In addition to organic produce, Bella Harvest also carries Appleschram’s local nitrate-free, grass-fed beef and pork, along with honey, applesauce and syrup. Appleschram’s was a well-known vendor at the old Lansing City Market that chose to not make the move to the new facility, Nichols adds.
A big seller at the new Lansing City Market are Bella Harvest’s free-range chicken eggs, which are multi-color blue and green and “just taste better” than conventional store-bought eggs, he explains.
Nichols gets the eggs from the same Charlotte-area farm that produces his organic vegetables. Organic food is the fastest growing sector of the American food marketplace, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In fact, organic food sales have grown approximately 20 percent per year since 2007.
“Organic is a bit more expensive than conventional. I’d say about 20 percent more in general. But we are no more expensive than what other stores are charging for their organic.”
Organic foods are grown in a way that limits or excludes use of synthetic materials during production. “No pesticides or fertilizers,” Nichols says.
The health benefits to eating organic are becoming clearer. In fact, a study released in May by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency links children’s attention deficit disorder with exposure to common pesticides used on fruits and vegetables.
Nichols expects to be more hands-on with his organic produce this year, actually growing some of it himself for the first time on a small plot of land on the organic farm near Charlotte.
“We just don’t want to talk the talk. We want to learn as much about organic farming as possible. I’m growing some specialty peppers and eggplant. There is great potential for growth in organic foods and I want to be as knowledgeable as possible and be positioned to take advantage of it,” Nichols adds.
Bella Harvest’s customer base consists of many downtown city and state workers who visit at lunch and after work. Weekends bring in newer faces “who look at the Lansing City Market as a destination,” says Nichols.
Buying locally produced organic vegetables is good for the mid-Michigan economy and good for increasingly health conscious consumers.
“I think there is a trend to buy local and buy fresh. The economy has helped us in some ways because during tough times people begin to think a bit differently. Not to be corny, but they want to come home and buy local and buy healthy. Buying from anyone here at the market helps the local economy,” Nichols says.
Nichols recommends trying the locally grown Swiss chard and sweet corn this summer, two of his favorites and best sellers at Bella Harvest.
“We are very excited about this first Michigan harvest being at the new location. It’s going to be very exciting.”
Nichols’ booth, which is open year around, does stock some nonorganic produce from California and Florida during winter months.Follow Bella Harvest on Facebook and Twitter.
Kevin and Karen Nichols, Owners
Lansing City Market
325 City Market Drive