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Bill McMaster stepping away from namesake farm market after 41 years

After 41 years at the helm of Bill’s Farm Market outside Petoskey, Emmet County Farm Bureau leader Bill McMaster is stepping away to “smell the roses” and pursue other passions.
Date Posted: March 16, 2023

Bill McMaster has a succinct, easily repeatable answer to the relentless question he’s been fielding for weeks now: “I’m going to stop and smell the roses!”

That grinning, jovial exclamation is his answer to every inquiry about his pending retirement, as the longtime Emmet County Farm Bureau leader steps away from the popular Petoskey-area farm market that’s borne his name for decades.

That’s right: This is the year McMaster hands the reins of his life’s work over to a pair of close relations eminently qualified to maintain the prosperous business he launched before he even reached high school.

“I remember the day I started,” McMaster said. “I had a card table in my garage, and a pile of tomatoes, a pile of zucchini… I’d run to the field and back” between customers to pull, dig and snip more fresh vegetables.

“I was in seventh or eighth grade then, and I’ve still got two or three of the same customers who remember those early days.”

Through high school he continued selling produce at several area farmers’ markets, despite his parents — neither of them farmers — encouraging him to pursue a more practical, secure vocation.

“They said I should be a nurse and I did think about that,” he said. “I told them maybe I’d do that long enough to make enough money to get into farming!

“It’s kinda funny, we all have a different calling in life,” and his was more about feeding people than healing them. After earning a business degree from Lake Superior State in 1982, he and his brother Don started up the market right next to their childhood home.

Perched astride a ridge of glacial till a couple miles east of downtown Petoskey, Bill’s Farm Market prospered thanks to the familiar combo of hard work and determination. Not hurting was a steady flow of main-road traffic: locals and seasonal visitors alike.

As for the latter, note that the Petoskey area is a favored destination (or second home) for a relatively upscale class of part-time residents — it’s not your Silver Lake dune-buggy crowd. Their urbane tastes are mirrored in the bonkers assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables packing Bill’s shelves, bins and tables.

Familiar staples come in a riot of colors and sizes unseen in a normal grocery store.

“We really developed a niche in that specialty produce,” Bill said. “We have this miniature sweet corn people absolutely love.”

Cauliflower comes in white, purple, green and orange. Pickling cucumbers are pre-sorted into half a dozen different size categories. Fresh-dug beets are bound in perfect bunches pretty enough to pose for a rococo still-life.

With the years and expanding tastes of its clientele, the market has diversified and grown into nearly a year-round enterprise with the addition of herbs, cut flowers, pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees in early winter.

“If you do a good job and provide a good service for customers,” they come back. “I love the families and the people.”

Plans are taking shape for a Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting event later this year to officially mark the transition from Bill’s leadership to that of his cousins, Paul and Lucas Hoffman — also Farm Bureau members in good standing.

“Right now I’m as busy as ever, but I’m looking forward to the transition,” McMaster said. “I’ve been county president a long time now, but I’d like to cultivate someone else.

“I’m excited about the board we’ve got now. Every year our goal is to do one or two events.”

The next of those may piggyback on the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Emmet Vice President Ben Blaho is carrying that water, coordinating with the Chamber, Petoskey-based Farm Bureau Insurance Agent Megan Nothelfer — ice cream! — and Membership Captain Maria Ginop on popcorn.

“Ben’s gonna talk about Farm Bureau and I’m gonna thank my customers,” Bill said.

“What I’m going to miss is the customers.”

Media Contacts
Jeremy Nagel headshot

Jeremy Nagel

Member Communications Specialist
517-323-6885 [email protected]