Picked to Perfection
Springtime in Michigan means warmer weather, sunny skies and fresh strawberries. The Great Lakes State is home to numerous U-pick farms and farmers markets offering the sweet berry and lots more fresh, seasonal produce throughout the year. According to the Michigan Farmers Market Association, the state has grown in the number of markets from 90 in 2001 to over 300 in 2015. In 2012, Michigan had a total of 440 strawberry farms, and several of them offer U-pick services to consumers. This activity allows kids of all ages to experience fun on the farm and handpick their own fresh fruit. Michigan strawberries are usually available for picking in June and July, but call the farm first before traveling long distances. For more information on U-pick farms and farmers markets across the state, visit michiganfarmfun.com.
A Helping Hand
For new farmers, starting out can be tough – especially if they’re not inheriting the family farm. The Tilian Farm Development Center in Ann Arbor is helping farm entrepreneurs establish roots with their incubator program, designed for those with some agricultural experience who are ready to start their own farms. Through the program, beginning farmers can lease various plots of land at Tilian Farm, ranging in size, and share equipment, knowledge, storage, community resources, business planning and more with other farmers in the program while growing their crop. Many farmers in the program start with produce and herbs, which they sell at a local farmers market or through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs. There’s also a field for livestock and an apiary. The average term for farmers in the program is three years, but can range from one to five. For more information and to learn how to apply, visit tiliancenterorg.startlogic.com.
As the original environmentalists, Michigan farmers understand the importance of sustainability and natural resource conservation. Three Michigan farms, including Crooked Creek North LLC in Branch County, Irish Family Farms LLC in Saginaw County and JGDM McConnachie LLC in Sanilac County, were recently awarded grants through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Announced in August 2015, all 264 projects across the U.S. – Michigan farms included – are expected to generate and/or save enough energy to power more than 13,600 homes for a year. Crooked Creek North and JGDM McConnachie were awarded grants for solar power installations, while Irish Family Farms plans to use the grant for an energy-efficient grain dryer. Learn more about the program and how to apply for a REAP grant at rd.usda.gov.