Michigan’s female and minority farmers receive strong support from various organizations designed to educate, encourage and inspire those embarking on their agricultural journeys or working to grow their farming operations. As a result, these historically underserved populations are cultivating thriving careers while bolstering the state’s agriculture and food industry – a true win-win.
The Michigan Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) Women in Agriculture (WIA) Farm Development Center, located in Genesee County on the Genesys Health Park campus, was established in 2015 as a way to support women and others in the community who are beginning farm businesses. Home to a 3-acre farm, the center provides resources to help new farmers become economically independent. It works to reduce the barriers that often arise when launching a farm business.
In addition to helping aspiring farmers, the center educates those who are interested in learning more about where their food comes from. “This is designed to benefit both farmers and the community,” says Dana Voorheis, farm development manager for the WIA Farm Development Center. “We’re helping people, not just women, start successful farm businesses, while providing the community with more access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Voorheis says the center aims to provide farming space for up to five women in the next few years, with the goal of helping them learn to market their products and acquire customers along with improving their growing practices. Plans are also in the works to expand the center to include a dedicated farming area for veterans operated by the MIFFS Veterans in Ag Network.
Another resource helping Michigan’s beginning farmers is the Earthworks Agricultural Training (EAT) Program, a Detroit-based collaboration between the Capuchin Soup Kitchen’s Earthworks Urban Farm and Gleaners Community Food Bank. During the nine-month program, which focuses on urban agriculture and food systems, participants receive paid training on the 2.5-acre Earthworks Urban Farm and in their hoophouses, while focusing on individual goals and learning about environmental and social justice issues.
EAT graduates receive certificates in urban farming, and they are equipped with knowledge and skills needed to establish their own urban agriculture businesses and/or to obtain employment in the urban agriculture field.
Embracing Farmers and Communities
An offshoot of the Michigan Coalition of Black Farmers, the Southeast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA) is a cooperative that includes farmers with relatively small-scale, rural operations located between Detroit and Ann Arbor.
According to Cary Junior, SEMPA’s general manager and co-founding member, the organization focuses on helping its members sell and distribute their produce in urban communities lacking access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We’re trying to catapult this group of farmers to the next level,” Junior says. “We’re also trying to prevent our farmers from losing their land while working to get their products into the food-insecure areas of Detroit. SEMPA is basically in the process of creating a local food system.”
Although SEMPA is open to all new and beginning farmers, many of its members are African-American farmers who have retired from other careers and are pursuing ventures in agriculture. Through their participation, SEMPA members can grow their farms, reach new markets and help feed those in need.
“SEMPA is important because it’s an opportunity for farmers to help meet some of the demand in underserved areas while making their operations more profitable,” Junior says. “Plus, we educate our farmers so they can take advantage of some of the programs and resources available to them through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”