Farm girl returns to a revisioned farm
Entrepreneur turns blueberry farm near childhood home into glamping destination
Last updated 4/29/2021 at 4:37pm | View PDF
Irene Wood and her husband, Cary, didn't know the impact a three-day 2018 "glamping" trip in Big Sky, Mont., would have on their lives.
"We had the best vacation we had had in forever," Irene Wood said. "It was so great, in fact, that when we got home, we said, 'Let's do this again but someplace closer to home.' "
A quick Google search indicated that was not an option. No nearby glamping sites were listed.
"You have to Google harder," her husband told her.
"So I Googled harder - if that's even a thing - and again, nothing was popping up."
Wood called a few companies that run such facilities, suggesting southwest Michigan, where she grew up, as an untapped area.
"Nobody would call me back," she said. "Why would they? I probably sounded like a crazy lady."
Wood, who owns five acres of the family farm she grew up on in South Haven, Mich., knew a similar property would be the perfect site to open a glamping destination.
"I knew the sweet spots because I grew up here," Wood said. "I've ridden my bike down all these back roads."
Wood found a 30-acre spot that met her requirements - a beautiful, working farm not too far from town so guests could tour a winery or go out to eat during their stay.
"South Haven is the blueberry capital of the world, so it only makes sense that we chose a blueberry farm," she said.
She closed on the property in November 2018, submitted plans to the state the following January, broke ground three months later and opened The Fields of Michigan to the public June 22, 2019. A lot was accomplished in those eight months, Wood said.
"There was no water, no sewer, no electricity - nothing on this property," she said. "We had to bring every single bit of it in. It's crazy."
The camp opened with one main screened building and 10 tents, not much more than would be found at a middle school camp, Wood said.
Last year guests continued to come, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, they couldn't really do anything off of the property.
"Everything was shut down," Wood said. "We became responsible for people's time in a way we hadn't even known to think of the year previous."
A rented Airstream provided space for private dining and spa treatments last year. This summer, spa services will be provided in three new tree houses, and the screened building has been enclosed to create a bar with lounge seating and a fireplace. A new store, the Camp Canteen, offers alcohol and other items to campers and houses the kitchen where chef Jay Marcoux cooks breakfast and dinners for guests to enjoy on the property. Nine additional tents were added to the property as well.
Wood said many of her guests hail from nearby cities - Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland or Grand Rapids. They are typically professionals looking for a fully curated experience where they can breathe fresh air and disconnect (there is no Wi-Fi).
"They want us to remove all the thinking and just kind of say, 'This is your itinerary for the next 48 hours,' " Wood said.
Tents are equipped with a king-size bed, electricity, a full bathroom with hot water, lush linens and an air-conditioner or wood stove, depending on the weather. Guests can make reservations to get a massage or enjoy a dinner on-site during their stay. Marcoux's menu features a cheese board starter, field greens salad, choice of entrée (grilled salmon, sliced beef medallions or roaster half chicken) and grilled asparagus and herb roasted potatoes, with a warm blueberry cobbler for dessert.
Most visitors are couples looking for a getaway or women enjoying a girls weekend, Wood said.
"Last year with the pandemic, people couldn't leave their kids with the parents, so we had an influx of people traveling with their kids," she said.
Up to two children 12 and younger can sleep in rollaway beds in a tent for an extra fee. Weekends for the 2021 season sold out within 30 minutes of opening last November, Wood said. But a weekday visit is just as wonderful.
"A farm works on Sunday no different than it does on a Tuesday," she said. "Breakfast is served every day of the week. The experience doesn't change."
Wood equated opening The Fields with earning a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship.
"I have never learned so much in this short amount of time than I did trying to launch a business," the former engineer said. She learned about everything from soil samples and budgeting to marketing and public relations.
"I'm not backed by a firm, not a franchise," Wood said. "Everything was individual and everything had to be done by me. We weren't big enough to hire to do it. I had no idea what I didn't know, and I had no idea how blindly I went into this."
Wood said she is proud of what she's accomplished in three short years.
"Nobody should have let me start this business. Someone should have stopped me and said, 'Do you even know what you're getting into?' "
Wood and her husband, Cary, who is CEO of an automotive company out of Detroit, moved from Michigan to Hinsdale 10 years ago with four kids ranging in age from 9 to 21. Liz, the oldest, still lives in town.
Wood, who spent 180 days straight on the property last year, said she's excited to open the season with 24 employees on her team who are as committed as she is to providing a magical experience for guests. That just might mean a little more free time in her schedule.
"I might get to make it back home for Uniquely Thursday," she said.