Sugarbeet Harvest 2023 Underway; Neighbors Lend Fellow Farmer A Helping Hand

Published online: Sep 19, 2023 Feature Rob Clark, Michigan Sugar Company; Farm News Media
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Michigan Sugar Company‘s 2023 sugarbeet harvest is officially underway as of Sept. 5, with J&L Gremel Farms harvesting the first sugarbeets for the season in a 37-acre field in Huron county near Gagetown.

Based in Sebewaing, J&L Gremel Farms grows 500 acres of sugarbeets, as well as corn, dry beans, and white winter wheat in Huron and Tuscola counties. They are part of a harvest group with Sand Road Farms, Lakke-Ewald Farms, and Bednarski Farms Inc.

The Gremel farm dates to the early 1900s. Erica (married to Carl Bednarski Jr., son of MFB President Carl Bednarski) and her brother Grant are the fourth generation to help operate the farm.

Michigan Sugar said it plans to begin slicing sugarbeets at its factories in Bay City, Caro, Croswell, and Sebewaing on Sept. 8.

Neighbors Lend Fellow Farmer A Helping Hand

Two days later the Michigan Sugar family rallied to help one of its own.

For the past five weeks, Michigan Sugar grower-owner and Co-op Board Director Mike Leen has been hospitalized at the University of Michigan Hospital, where he is awaiting a heart transplant.

It's a tough situation, for sure, but made even more trying by the fact that, as a farmer, harvest time is what Leen and his fellow growers look forward to all summer.

Thankfully, in a cooperative, you're never alone.

So, earlier this week, a group of Michigan Sugar's grower-owners began talking about how to lend a hand and harvest and transport Mike's 35 acres of sugarbeets — grown in a field off Walker Road, south of Carsonville in Sanilac County — for slicing.

The discussions were led by growers Matt Frostic and Rod Bednaryczk and quickly grew to include Co-op Board Secretary Clint Stoutenburg, and others.

A group of volunteers assembled on Sept. 7 to dig the beets. Matt Frostic contributed a harvester, as did Mike Van Norman from ROPA North America. The Gerstenberger family lent two beet carts for the effort.

Throughout the day, many stopped by to lend a hand and show their support, including Dan Gerstenberger, Tyler Mitchell, Mike's son Matt Leen, Andy Finkral and Andy Bernia of ACH Seeds, Jeff Eager, Christy Gordon from the nonprofit organization Ag Community Relief (which provided pizza for the crew).

The 35 acres of beets are now piled on the side of the field and were loaded into trucks on Sept. 8, using Clint Stoutenburg's MAUS. According to Rod Bednaryczk, there are between 30 and 40 growers who have committed trucks to transport the beets to Michigan Sugar's factory in Croswell.

Mike says he is overwhelmed by the show of support from his Michigan Sugar family and others.

"It is humbling," he said. "I am so blessed to be part of it. I always knew there were good people in the world and in the ag industry, but this is unbelievable. Everyone is concerned and it is such a blessing, a huge blessing. I have so much gratitude. ... Everyone, I can't name them all, has been wonderful."

Reagan Sprague has set up a Go Fund Me account to help raise money for the Leen family to offset some of their expenses.

You can find the Go Fund Me account at https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-heart-for-mike-leen. In just a couple days, the fund has generated 139 donations totaling nearly $16,000.

Mike and his wife Julie live in Carsonville and have four children — Matt, Hannah, Nicholas, and Jacob. Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers.