Michigan Food & Agriculture

Tom Carr

Artisan cheesemaking is on the rise in Michigan, though it’s not an easy business to get into. The number of small, independent cheese producers in Michigan is expected to nearly double in the near future.

Sue Kurta is among those leading the way. As she stirs the curdling milk that will become Swiss cheese, you can see the colorful tattoos that cover her arms. They’re pictures of pineapples, a cruise ship and other upbeat things.

“It stirs for quite a long time like this and if you don’t give it a toss, it can mat together,” Kurta says.

The Traverse City area is emerging as Michigan's new "foodie empire." Chris Cook, chief wine and restaurant critic for Hour Detroit Magazine, tells us just which area restaurants are worth a visit.

Show off your bulbs

Oct 15, 2014
Peter Payette

There’s a garlic show this weekend near Traverse City. It will include a “best in show” award and there will be an auction.

Northern Michigan is not a garlic-growing region, but the cousin of the onion is important to chefs, who will judge the entries.

 


Many of us believe it's not officially autumn in Michigan until we've got pumpkins nestled on our front porches.


Today on Stateside, we heard the verdict from the state's pumpkin patch.


Ron Goldy is with the Michigan State University Extension Service. He said Michigan's pumpkin crop this year is one of the best he's seen.


"The color is good, they've ripened on time, the size is good, because the cool temperature allows them to get larger.... This is a great pumpkin year," said Goldy.


Goldy also said odd pumpkins are trending right now. In the next five years or so, we'll see more and more different styles and colors of pumpkins in the market.


* Listen to our conversation with Ron Goldy above.


Northern Michigan counties free of bovine tuberculosis

Sep 11, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says seven counties in the region are now free from bovine tuberculosis – an area including Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet Counties.

That means federal officials are easing regulations on cattle farmers, who have had to test their cattle regularly for nearly 20 years. Infected herds have been destroyed.

Michigan’s minimum wage rises to $8.15 an hour

Sep 2, 2014

People making the minimum wage in Michigan got a raise Monday. The wage increased from $7.40 an hour to $8.15 an hour.

It will eventually rise to $9.25 an hour by 2018 and increase with inflation after that. That stops if the state’s unemployment rate goes above 8.5 percent.

The Michigan Restaurant Association (MRA), which lobbied against the minimum wage increase, says it expects some restaurants will raise menu prices because of Monday’s increase.

While we were begging for winter to end, the Michigan Apple Committee was happy for the cold temperatures.

As a result, the 2014 Michigan apple crop is expected to be 28.74 million bushels. That’s about 435 million apple pies.

Diane Smith, executive Director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said that apple trees like the cold winter. The past lengthy winter allowed for the trees to stay dormant, and not wake too early before the spring.

“The apples look beautiful, there aren't any issues, and everything’s coming along the right way,” Said Smith.

*Listen to the full interview with Diane Smith above. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Gourmet food trucks have seen remarkable growth in recent years.

A new University of Michigan study looks at the phenomena.

Researcher Todd Schifeling is a doctoral candidate in sociology at UM.  He’s also a big fan of food trucks. In fact, he says he was spending so much time eating at his local food truck, he thought he might as well get some research done at the same time.

Schifeling says gourmet food trucks tend to grow in communities with active locally grown food scenes and more than the average number of college graduates.

“The great thing about blueberries is you can pick them, you can freeze them, you know, without a whole lot of preparation, and just pour them on stuff,” says James Hancock, professor of Horticulture at Michigan State University.

If you haven’t guessed, Hancock has a passion for blueberries. In fact, he has spent the last 30 years cultivating the berry.

The blueberry industry in Michigan has been commercially growing berries since the 1900s. In 2011, the Michigan blueberry industry spanned 18,000 acres and yielded 72 million pounds of fruit valued at more than $118 million.

Hancock has developed three of the most widely planted blueberry varieties throughout his three decades at MSU. He breeds high bush blueberries: the Aurora, the Draper, and the Liberty blueberry.

Hancock said his blueberries are not genetically modified. Some are grown as far away as Chile and South Korea.

*Listen to the full story above. 

You know the name: Mario Batali – celebrity chef, restaurateur, infamous orange-Crocs-wearer. But what you might not know is that Batali is slightly obsessed with Northern Michigan – Leelanau Peninsula to be exact.

It seems Batali came across Northern Michigan just like a lot of people did. He married a woman and went on vacation back to a place she knew.

“Initially, I was like, well, I don’t know – a lake seemed small … then I got here. First of all, I didn’t realize we were on an “ocean.” Second of all, the water is as blue as the Caribbean. The sand here is as soft as the most amazing places in Hawaii I’ve ever been,” Batali recalled.

"There's a delicious culture of cherries, and there's magnificent understanding of grapes ... Gastronomically, it is very easy to fall in love with this place, because almost everything is delicious."

* Listen to our conversation with Mario Batali above.

“What a beautiful fall day.”

Normally you won’t think anything of a tweet like this. But when that tweet comes at the end of July, it’s a little disconcerting.  

With the temperatures over the past few weeks dipping into the 50s, it’s hard not to think about the bigger consequences.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently said if climate trends continue, Michigan agriculture will be harmed. That’s a big issue when you consider that agriculture is the state’s second largest industry, and agri-food and agri-energy businesses make up more than 20% of the state’s workforce.

Philip Robertson is a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Michigan State University. He joined us today to talk about how climate change could affect the future of farming in Michigan.

Jim Byrum was also with us to share what it means from the business side of agriculture. Byrum is the President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

*Listen to the full interview above.

traversecitymi.gov

A bold idea to use downtown street parking for additional outdoor restaurant seating in Traverse City appears to be on hold for now.

That’s the new recommendation of an ad hoc committee charged with studying the issue. The new recommendations will be presented to city commissioners Monday.

The committee now says the concept should be studied more, and broadened to include other, more park-like uses.

A new kind of berry has found its way into Michigan grocery stores. These dark purple fruits are called saskatoons.

This commercial cultivar of the wild juneberry is pretty common in Canada, but it hasn't been grown by farmers in the U.S. until recently. Here, the berry, also sometimes called the serviceberry, has been collected in the wild for generations.

One farmer who has started growing them in Michigan isn't quite sure how to describe the taste.

Get this, 75% of the nation's tart cherries are grown in Michigan, most of that in the northwest Lower Peninsula.

But every year the industry that brings us cherry pies and the Traverse City Cherry Festival faces restrictions set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ron French, the Senior Writer for Bridge Magazine, said because so many tart cherries are grown in such a small area, the weather can greatly affect the crop. So the USDA puts a limit on the percentage of Michigan's tart cherry crop that can be sold so prices don't swing too dramatically.

“The result of that is that in some years as much as one half or more in cherries produced in Michigan is left rotting on the ground,” French said.

Most growers favor restrictions, but one food processing company in Elk Rapids is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

French said Elk Rapids is hoping to remove the restrictions on cherries completely.

The nation’s tart cherry growers are on track to grow about as many tart cherries as they can sell this year. That’s good news for an industry that often grows too much fruit and sometimes restricts sales to keep supply in balance with demand.

Estimates for 2014 project growers producing about 260 million pounds of tart cherries. Most of that, about 180 million pounds, will come from Michigan.   

The executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, Perry Hedin, says that’s an average to large crop.

Northern Ontario Aquaculture Associaton

Michigan took a big step forward in the business of fish farming this week. The state issued a permit allowing the Grayling Fish Hatchery to expand more than ten fold. It will be the largest fish hatchery in the state by far when it ramps up production. The hatchery raises trout for restaurants and grocery stores.

The expansion comes as interest in fish farming is growing nationwide. There is even talk of developing the aquaculture industry offshore in the open waters of the Great Lakes, something that has only been done in Canadian waters.

A New Barn Quilt Trail In Mason County

Jun 18, 2014

A new tourism trail of Mason County farms will open this September. It will be similar to a trail of barns on Old Mission Peninsula. They display barn quilts. They’re not fabric quilts. They’re large pieces of wood painted to look like quilt squares and fastened to the exteriors of barns. The Mason County trail is hoping to have 12 quilts up by mid-September. Brandy Henderson is Executive Director of the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Brandy says, "People will be able to bring their cellphone and dial a number at each stop and they'll hear the story and history of each barn

The government wants pregnant women to eat more fish. Yesterday the FDA and EPA issued new draft advice that urges pregnant and breastfeeding women to eat at least eight to twelve ounces of fish a week.

The update comes 10 years after the last recommendation, which didn't specify a minimum.

The FDA is worried that fears over mercury levels in seafood have kept many pregnant women from getting enough of the nutritional value needed for their babies.

Beekeepers have to keep their honeybees healthy against a lot of challenges: deadly mites, pesticides and harsh winters.

Once they make it to the spring though, it doesn’t mean they’re in the clear. Bears are emerging from hibernation at their hungriest.

And beeyards are like a dinner bell.

Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill (H.B. 5226) that could allow beekeepers and hunters to work together to protect honeybees from bears. 

A herd of goats has been evicted from weedy lots on Detroit's west side.

The animals were brought into the blight-ridden Brightmoor neighborhoods late last week to eat the overgrown weeds and grass.

But the city of Detroit swooped in straight away to shut down the goat farm, called Idyll Farms Detroit, noting that current zoning laws don't allow goats within the city limits.

Overgrown weeds and trash on Westbrook Street, between Acacia Avenue and Kendall Street, made the block nearly impossible to pass through. The Brightmoor community partnered with Idyll Farms to clear it.

On Memorial Day weekend, the community loaded up five 30-yard Dumpsters with trash. Eighteen male goats were brought in Thursday afternoon to be used as lawn mowers, so volunteers can pick up the trash.

Around noon the next day, Detroit Animal Control showed up to enforce an ordinance against farm animals within the city limits.

Leonard Pollara is a consultant with Idyll Farms Detroit. He said that Idyll Farms was aware that an ordinance existed, but they were asked by the Brightmoor community not to engage with city hall, and said the city would not enforce the animal control ordinance.

Pollara said that Idyll Farms was fully prepared to remove the goats at any time if the city required them to do so.

Pollara added that Detroit has not yet perfected an ordinance that would allow for farm animals within agriculture zones.  However, Idyll Farms has experience in operating farms and managing agriculture systems.

“We are very interested in offering our resources and expertise to the city,” Pollara said.

Pollara added that they are not interested in backing away and want to remain in a partnership with the Brightmoor community.

*Listen to full interview above. 

–Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom

New Berry In Town

Jun 5, 2014
Peter Payette

An unusual berry should be widely available at farmers markets in northern Michigan this summer. In fact, the region has become the center of saskatoon growing in the United States.

Most people who grow saskatoons around Traverse City were not farmers until a few years ago, but the berry could have a bright future up north.

Saskatoons look almost identical to a blueberry, but they’re dark purple. The plant is actually related to an apple tree, but grower Jim Dixon says its appearance causes people to think saskatoons taste like blueberries. He thinks that's a mistake.

Recent changes in the Michigan right-to farm requirements have drawn criticisms from those worried it may curtail their ability to keep bees, chickens, or other farm animals in their backyards.

But are these changes as threatening to urban farming as detractors fear?

Writer Anna Clark has looked into the revisions in the right-to farm requirements and she believes the answer is “no.”

*Listen to the full show above.

beaverislandbirdingtrail.org

A new birding trail will be unveiled at Beaver Island this weekend. The trail encompasses more than 12,000 acres of public land. Lake Michigan's largest island is a critical stopover for migratory birds flying north.

Katie Keen is a wildlife technician with the Department of Natural Resources. She says it’s a driving trail with look-out stops along the way.

"It's a just great location being right out on Lake Michigan, where spring migration just brings all sorts of birds through: sparrows, vireos, warblers. It’s a great place for birding."

Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development

Three weeks after a state panel voted on new Right to Farm rules, there’s still a lot of confusion about what’s allowed and not allowed for people raising chickens, goats, bees and other livestock in residential areas.

Jamie Clover Adams is the director of the state Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. She sat down with Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta to explain where things stand. Adams says this is not the final word on backyard livestock rules in Michigan – they will be reviewed and very likely updated again in 2015.

Federal authorities say a recall has been issued for 1.8 million pounds of ground beef that was shipped for use in restaurants. Detroit company Wolverine Packing issued the recall Monday; the Department of Agriculture says the beef may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

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