11. A Growing Concern
By: Tanya Muzumdar
May 22, 2008
I used to be a fruit picker. Wearing braids and denim overalls, I
passed balmy summer grade school breaks in Grandma's street-side Royal
Oak yard, harvesting heaps of ripe magenta raspberries, and boiling
them down with sugar to make lickety-rich preserves. In recent
decades, however, I haven't been such a busy worker bee. I did
cultivate a spiky fountain of chives in my shady back yard, but sadly,
after a season or so, my prolific crop was lost to flooding or neglect
- not sure which came first. For years afterward, thoughts of raising
edibles lay buried in my mind; at least until my recent talk with Mike
Score, an agricultural innovation counselor at the Michigan State
University (MSU) Product Center.
Score points out a general lack of awareness of ground-level economic
development potential. "It would be to Michigan's advantage to take a
closer look at agriculture as a sector in our economy, because in
general, we take it for granted and we really don't understand it as
well as we should, given its size."
Michigan's agri-food industry, which includes agriculture, leather,
floriculture, ornamentals, turf grass, and bio-energy industries,
generates $60.1 billion in economic output and a little more than one
million jobs, - about 24% of the state's employment - likely second in
size only to the automotive industry, according to a 2006 Michigan
State University study "The Economic Impact and Potential of
Michigan's Agri-Food System."
With much fanfare, in 2005 the state launched the $1 billion 21st
Century Jobs Fund to foster economic development by growing
technologies in life science, alternative energy, advanced automotive
technologies, and homeland security. Sexy business sectors, no doubt.
But where's the respect for an industry that literally affects the
lives of everyone in Michigan?
Mike Hamm, C.S. Mott professor of sustainable agriculture at MSU, says
the field "can be a tool to help us solve public health issues ... It's
a way to protect our landscape for generations as they get older so
that we don't lose our farmland and become dependent on more and more
distant sources for food at a time when global population is
increasing and water stresses are becoming more severe around the
world ... Historically, in the last 25 years or so we've not really
considered local agriculture as a viable strategy for economic
Where is it from?
Indeed, it comes down to digging up our food's roots. Just 1% of
Michigan-grown food is sold locally, direct to consumers, says Score,
who learned from a major food distribution executive that
transportation makes up half of food costs.
For instance, Michigan is the third largest producer of apples in the
nation, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture. But this
sure isn't evident in area Costco stores, where you seldom find our
state's rosy Galas or Empires. Their pallets brim with the bounty of
Washington's orchards, fresh from two thousand miles away.
And even apples can be a hard sell. Hamm, who helps to develop
community-based food systems, has observed a "public health gap",
where the average U.S. resident's diet is deficient: we consume half
the daily required fruits and vegetables, one-third of necessary dairy
products, and we worship white bread. Ubiquitous fast food and
packaged snacks galore are not just to blame; many lack the resources
and access to obtain healthy fresh foods.
In a study to be released later this year, Hamm found that if the
state's public health gap could be bridged through consumption of more
locally produced fresh food, an estimated 37,000 more farmland acres
could go into production, putting $200 million more in the pockets of
farmers and creating about 1,800 off-farm jobs. A family can live off
a good 20-acre farm, so additional farm jobs could be in the
three-to-four digit range.
Farming a fair share
The Ann Arbor-based Fair Food Foundation, whose slogan is "Grow the
Good", is concentrating on closing this gap by aiming to work with
historically excluded urban communities to design food systems that
provide healthy, fresh and sustainably-grown food. President and CEO
Oran Hesterman says it's the only foundation in the country, possibly
even in the world, with a focus on an equitable and sustainable local
A May 2007 Ann Arbor Business Review story put the Foundation's
expected annual grants in the $12 to $20 million range. Hesterman will
not confirm specific numbers at this point, but does anticipate a
"significant" program. It commenced operations earlier this year, and
personnel are preparing strategies and guidelines for reviewing grant
applications this fall, he says.
"What I'm especially interested in is ... how we might be able to
position both jobs and ownership opportunities in food production,
processing, distribution, preparation, and retailing that can attract,
especially, young entrepreneurs in the southeast Michigan area," says
Hesterman. "We're in an area that's got really good natural conditions
for farming and growing food. We've got good water, which is certainly
not the case everywhere. We've got access to very vibrant markets and
large population centers. ... I don't think it's unreasonable that at
some point in time we'd have 20% of our food system more localized
than it is right now. I don't think that's out of bounds and we have
the productive capacity to do it, for sure."
The MSU Product Center also works to grow new and existing food,
agricultural, and natural resources-based businesses by helping
entrepreneurs to write business plans, create financial models, and
identify customers. Score has worked with 180 clients over the last
three years, 40 of whom have implemented a variety of business plans,
including: a purveyor of clean green soy-based fertilizer in
Manchester; horticultural products on the Goetz Farm in Monroe County;
a sheep cheese maker in Chelsea; and Mercury Coffee Bar in Detroit.
And the shortest route to going local is right out the front or back
door - urban and community gardening, which has spread its roots in
Ann Arbor and Detroit. Score sees a trend of consumers eating from
home - literally. And burning what they eat. "It's not hard labor,
like breaking rocks at the state prison. It's pleasant aerobic
exercise that gives you short-term gratification. ... I think urban
gardening will become a significant source of produce in southeast
Michigan." He believes that Ashley Atkinson, co-chair of the Detroit
Agriculture Network, whose work was recently featured in O, The Oprah
Magazine, runs one of the best urban gardening programs in the U.S.
This ground-up focus addresses our most elementary regional
development issues. "When you look at nutrition and access to food,
you're looking at job creation and nutrition, which affects school
performance, which affects life opportunities," says Score, who notes
that the inputs for food production are relatively simple and
inexpensive. "Young children can grow tomatoes and sell them at the
roadside and learn how to start a small business. ... There's a high
demand from restaurants and grocery stores and institutional food
buyers for high quality local food. Food system economic development
can be exciting for the full spectrum of Michigan residents."
So, we can all buy what's in store. I even have a plot to produce in
the yard again. The tomato, basil, and, yes, chives, seeds are ready,
and my pots are back in the sun.
NOTICE OF POSITION OPENINGS
12. Gardening and Gleaning Supervisor needed at The Garden Project of
The Greater Lansing Food Bank.
We are currently hiring a Gardening and Gleaning Supervisor to join
our team at The Garden Project of The Greater Lansing Food Bank. The
position is physically demanding and requires someone with knowledge
of working with equipment and gardening. You will find more about the
duties in the attached job description. The position description is
also available via the following link on our website --the position
closes May 26, 2008.
Please help us share this opportunity with anyone you think would be
The Garden Project
P.O. Box 30161
Lansing, MI 48909-7661
Email: [log in to unmask]
13. Youth Farm Stand Summer Youth Coordinator needed:
Blandford Nature Center and Mixed Greens is currently recruiting
applicants to fill a seasonal part-time position working with
middle-school and high-school youth on our small organic farm.
Blandford Nature Center and Mixed Greens is a community-based
nonprofit organization working to cultivate, nourish, and sustain a
legacy of leaders, citizens and communities who embrace and advocate
for sustainable living as a result of the deep relationship with the
land created within them. We invite children and the community to
connect to the land, to food, and to their surroundings through
meaningful hands-on experiences that lead to sustainable and healthy
The primary responsibilities of this position are to plan and
implement hands-on education programs for youth ages 13-18. It
involves coordinating and leading activities for youth and volunteers,
while ensuring their safety. Additionally, the position involves farm
maintenance to maintain these spaces for educational use. Hours may
include Monday through Saturday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Typical responsibilities include:
* Develop and implement of lessons and activities for youth to
their understanding of organic farming, nutrition, poverty and food
security, and leadership.
* Mentor and train youth to successfully lead volunteer groups and
elementary school field trips on the farm.
* Lead youth in activities such as farm work and market sales.
* Work with Farm Coordinator and Education Programs Manager to
daily logistics of summer program.
* Maintain supplies and materials, including properly setting up
cleaning up equipment and supplies.
* Maintain positive relationships with project partners and
* Work with Farm Coordinator and Education Programs Manager to
Work is performed under the supervision of the Blandford Nature Center
& Mixed Greens staff. The work involves contact with other staff,
volunteers, parents and youth.
OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES (May not include all of the duties performed)
Other responsibilities may include:
* Supervision of youth and adult volunteers.
* Mentoring youth with personal life issues and adjusting to
* Documenting programming with photographs and accurate records
* Evaluating the effectiveness of programs and suggesting
* Working cooperatively with staff and volunteers to solve
* Performing related work as required.
REQUIREMENTS OF WORK
This position requires:
* A true appreciation and interest in adolescents, farming, and
* High levels of motivation, energy, initiative and enthusiasm.
* An ability to speak in front of groups.
* An ability to analyze and take steps to control unusual or
situations quickly and safely.
* An ability to work without constant supervision, both
and as part of a team.
* An ability to communicate effectively and assertively, both
and in writing.
Applicant must be able to work outdoors in a variety of weather
conditions including rain, heat and cold.
Applicant must be able to move in a variety of trail conditions,
including, wet, brushy, muddy and steep surfaces.
Applications will be accepted until May 30 or the position is filled.
Qualified applicants may be contacted for interviews as soon as
application materials are received. Criminal background checks will be
conducted before candidates are hired.
Starting date: June 2
Position ends: August 31
Rate of Pay: $10 per hour, 15 - 20 hours per week
Must have weekend availability and possess own transportation.
For further information, or to submit cover letter and resume:
Jennifer Getting Jameslyn
Education Programs Manager
1715 Hillburn NW
Grand Rapids MI 49504
[log in to unmask] (Please use subject line FARM YOUTH
14. Assistant Needed on "Our Family Farm LLC in Manchester, MI
We are looking for summer help here at Our Family Farm LLC. This is a
CSA located near Manchester, Michigan, about 20 miles Southwest of Ann
Arbor. Phone is 734 428 9100 and cell is 734 945 4636. This is a
paid position for the summer and into the fall. We are seeking
someone who is enthusiastic and interested in learning about vegetable
farming and marketing. We grow in fields and hoophouses, which we will
expand this year. We are not organically certified but farm using
15. Vegetable Cover Crop Meeting
June 12, 2008 9:00a.m. - 5:00p.m.
Kellogg Biological Station, Gull Lake, MI
This program will offer entry-level and advanced info on use of cover
crops for sustainable and organic vegetable farmers. The MSU Vegetable
Area of Expertise team is presenting this program to encourage and
enable Michigan farmers and other agricultural professionals to
integrate cover crops with sustainable vegetable production. Through a
series of speakers, the program will address: cover crops in organic
tomato and cucumber systems, nutrient management using cover crops,
the role of cover crops in soil health and root disease management,
weeds and nitrogen, perennial wheat systems, comparisons of cover
cropping systems for intensive vegetable systems, multi-cover
cropping, and no-till organic systems. The meeting will include a KBS
field tour, and will also include a provided lunch!
Registration and a registration fee of $25 are due by June 6th. Please
make checks payable to Michigan State University Extension; mail
checks and registration to MSUE- Oceana County Extension c/o Kathy,
210 Johnson St. E, Hart, MI 49420. You may also register the day of
the event; the registration fee in this case is $40.
For a complete agenda of the meeting and the registration form, please
For additional information, please visit www.michiganorganic.msu.edu
or contact the Oceana County Extension office (phone: 231-873-2129; or
email Kathy at [log in to unmask]).
16. Promotion Opportunity for Michigan grower/specialty food processor:
Plans are underway for the 2008 Buy Fresh, Buy Local - Select Michigan
Farmers' Market, Thursday, July 24, 2008, at the Michigan State
Capitol, in Lansing. Information about the market is attached. As you
can see, we are making improvements to assure that this is the best
If you are interested in being a vendor at this free market, and meet
the eligibility requirements, please complete the vendor application
form and vendor biographical information form, and return them by
Monday, June 9, 2008, to:
Michigan Department of Agriculture
P.O. Box 30017
Lansing, MI 48909
[log in to unmask]
We look forward to working with you to promote your Michigan food and
agriculture products this summer! Please feel free to call Jeanne if
you have questions about the market.
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