Northern Michigan potato farm plans to rebuild after devastating fire
Elmira — A fire at Kitchen Farms destroyed several buildings at the family-owned business in Antrim County between Mancelona and Boyne Falls Monday.
More than 20 fire departments from five counties responded to the fire that began at about 10:30 a.m. Monday at the fourth-generation farm that bills itself as the largest potato farm in Michigan that ships only fresh potatoes.
Firefighters were able to bring the fire at the 5,000-acre farm under control by about 9 p.m. Monday. Seven buildings that appeared to be constructed of concrete block and metal were destroyed and are considered a total loss by Antrim County officials. Concrete blocks could still be seen exploding from the heat Tuesday as the fire among the collapsed buildings smoldered.
Antrim County's deputy administrator Jeremy Scott said the fire was fueled by pallets and sacks stored in the buildings, and there was no indication of chemical or hazmat concerns.
US-131 south was closed for nine hours Monday and a shelter in place issued for residents within one mile of the farm due to visibility from the smoke was lifted Tuesday morning.
Don Kitchen, a fourth-generation family member, said the company intends to rebuild but it will probably be 2022 before they can complete the process.
Kitchen Farms has been in business for 112 years. What started out as just 80 acres of land, a team of horses and one planted crop of potatoes in 1909 turned into 5,000 acres. In 2014 the company produced 60 million pounds of potatoes, Don's father, Bill Kitchen, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
The company has about 15 permanent employees and as many as 45 during the fall harvest season, according to the company's website. Kitchen Farms russet, white, yellow and red potatoes that are packaged and sold fresh in supermarkets and other retailers.
About two-thirds of this year's crop was planed, Kitchen told The Detroit News Tuesday.
Reports point to new construction on the farm as the cause of the fire, Scott said.
The Northern Lakes Economic Alliance said it will be working with state and regional partners to ensure that any of Kitchen Farms' employees with impacted jobs will receive assistance.
Freelance writer John Russell contributed.