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Growing with distinction



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Bill and Barb Middleton, owners of Middleton Berry Farm, 4888 Oakwood Road, Ortonville. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
October 12, 2011 - Bill and Barb Middleton served as members of the Oakland County Farm Bureau for 80 years, collectively— Bill for 50 years and Barb for the past 30.

The couple, married 36 years, and owners of the Middleton Berry Farm, were recently honored with a distinguished service award for their contributions to the agricultural community in Oakland County, as well as agriculture education efforts.

"We are greatly honored," said Bill Middleton, 71, who joined the Oakland County Farm Bureau Board of Directors as a 20-year-old farmer. "It was a surprise. We voted every year for who would get the award, we never dreamed it would be us. You never think about how much you do until someone brings it up to you."

"We are very humbled," said Barb.

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Bill Middleton was born and raised on a dairy farm in Lake Orion. He and his brother, Tom Middleton, purchased the land at 4888 Oakwood Road, where the Middleton Berry Farm is located, in 1967 and made it a dairy farm. They had 400 cows and milked 200.

Bill and Barb Middleton returned to the family farmstead in Lake Orion in 1983 to farm "u-pick" produce on 88 acres. Over the years, they estimate that every October, over the course of about 16 days, they would have 24,000 children descend on the farm during school field trips.

In 2000, they moved to the 45-acre Brandon Township farm in order to "downsize" after Bill had heart surgery. They built a home on the farm and planned to retire, but the high cost of health insurance scuttled those plans.

They both took outside jobs— Barb with Oxford Bank and Bill with Oxford Schools as a bus driver, and they continued to farm. They started Middleton Berry Farm with a small strawberry patch, but found great demand. They planted more and more, and now they are up to four acres of strawberries every May.

Additionally, the Middletons also farm five acres of pumpkins, two acres of fall raspberries, and one acre of tomatoes. They have a 10-acre pond for irrigation, and a petting farm with goats and rabbits.

They retired from their bank and bus driving jobs and also retired from the farm bureau, but they have no plans to retire from farming. They keep up on their agriculture education, and the only time they don't work on the farm is when there is snow on the ground.

There is plenty of work to do, but with only a little help from family and a few part-time employees, Bill and Barb do most of the work themselves— weeding, watering, trellising raspberries and spreading straw around tomato plants.

"I still enjoy it," said Bill. "I don't know what else to do. I don't like television, just baseball and football games. I just love to drive the tractor."

"It's very gratifying," said Barb. "People love to come out and pick stuff and bring their kids. We provide something they can't do themselves. People who come here have a good time— we have a lot of very nice customers."

Middleton Berry Farm, 4888 Oakwood Road, currently has U-Pick raspberries and pumpkins available. Call 248-628-1819 for days and times or visit www.middletonberryfarm.com.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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