HomeFront Page FeaturedWe celebrate the arrival of Spring with a few progress updates and a feature on Michigan Agriculture Cooperative models promoting sustainability in our region!

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The final layouts for our storage and processing facilities are complete and bids from contractors are being reviewed as we look forward to begin operations during the upcoming growing season.

Our design for the initial space, partially funded by the MDARD regional food system grant, will consider the diverse needs of the many potential operations who are interested in conducting business at the WFH, and are engaged with efforts which promote and increase the availability and access of locally sourced and sustainably produced foods for all in our region.

The WFH Planning Team is also exploring an investor strategy for those willing to become involved as financial partners and stakeholders in the future of this promising effort. To date, we have had many talented and recognized members of the local food community contribute their vision, expertise and time to this project. Inquiries also include those from grant funded research groups from our nearby University and surrounding Farms, in addition to like minded businesses, individuals and local food Artisans. Thank you all!

IMG_4055In our last blog we mentioned a comment during our workshop at the Local Foods Summit on February 22, that efforts in promoting our local food system could benefit from more Cooperative Associations promoting sustainably minded producers.

In her book “Locavesting” published in 2011, Author Amy Cortese provides some background on the cooperative business model, which currently plays an important role in our local and national economy and food systems;

” Cooperatives, businesses owned by and run for the benefit of their members – were first established in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the face of disruption brought on by the Industrial Revolution”. As people left farms for employment in the fast-growing cities and mechanization threatened the livelihood of craftsmen, workers were often at the mercy of abusive employers. These marginalized members of society – whether workers, consumers, farmers, or producers-began banding together as a way to protect and promote their mutual interests.”

“Often workers were forced to spend their meager wages at company-owned stores, which overcharged them for basic goods. That’s what led a group of 28 weavers and textile mill workers in Rochdale, England, in 1844 to pool their savings and open their own store, where they could buy staples such as butter, sugar, flour and oatmeal at reasonable prices. The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, as they called themselves, is widely considered the first successful co-op,and it’s governing principles, known as the the Rochdale Principles, are at the heart of the worldwide co-op movement today.”

Across our food system landscape, there are as many diverse agricultural cooperative associations as there are reasons for them to exist, including local, regional, national and multinational groups, who are involved with both conventional and sustainable farming. The major players stand out with successful branding and distribution in the common markets; Organic Valley, Sunkist, Land O’ Lakes and here in our State, the Michigan Milk Producers Association and the Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association,

MACMA’s first commodity division was the Michigan Processing Apple Growers Division organized in 1961. It was preceded by the Michigan Processing Apple Growers Marketing Cooperative, organized in 1959 to negotiate prices, grades and other terms of trade with buyers of apples for canning and freezing. The new division attracted a substantial membership during the first several months. Faced with a large crop of apples, grower-members held several membership recruitment meetings. The leadership of the new MACMA division signed up over 200 apple growers in the month of August 1961. The members represented a large percentage of the state’s processing apple tonnage.

The key example here, as with any business model, is the leadership that will recognize and facilitate action steps on every level for the advantage of the Cooperative’s stakeholders. This includes, but is not limited to, discussion and enhancement of production techniques and food safety, packaging and labeling requirements and conducting marketing outreach efforts to expand sales opportunities with new end users in the value chain. Possibly these new end users include many of our region’s academic and healthcare food service facilities, which have recently announced commitments and intentions to achieve a higher percentage level of purchasing, for their for food service operations, from local and sustainable sources.

The substantial buying power here would leverage all activities within our local food system, and continues to be promoted by many advocates far and wide, as a key goal in increasing infrastructure across the value chain involving local foods, which will assist in creating fair and available access for all groups via improved efficiency.

Let’s take a look at some of the Agricultural Cooperatives, here in Michigan, that have organized to assist producers in efforts to establish and promote sustainable growing practices, facilitate sales information and transportation logistics. All with the goal of increasing market share.

Michigan Chestnut Growers Association

A cooperative dedicated to the preservation and planting, as well as the cultivation and marketing of this unique food native to our area. Great information on the website above, including recipes and ordering.                                                                                                    The Rogers Reserve is the aggregation and processing center for the chestnut growers and was donated by Ernie and Mabel Rogers to Michigan State University in 1990. The Rogers were a prominent couple in the Jackson community, concerned with natural resources and food production. In 2002, at the bequest of the Rogers, an endowment was established to support the farm.                                                                                                                        Funds have been spent improving the farm and constructing Phase I and II building projects with the MSU Office of Land Management. Phase I, consisting of a steel pole building to house equipment, including a chestnut peeling line, was completed in 2005. Phase II was completed in April 2010 and consists of a wet lab, analytical lab, office and restrooms. The chestnut peeling line was purchased from Italy by the Midwest Nut Producers Council, supported by funding from the USDA Rural Development program. It is the only commercial chestnut peeling line in the western hemisphere.                                                                    Ernie Rogers was very interested in American chestnuts because chestnut blight was killing American chestnuts when he left his native Pennsylvania home and moved to Jackson, MI. When he found professor Dennis Fulbright working on American chestnuts in Michigan, Ernie offered his farm to grow the trees Fulbright was studying. It was on his farm that Ernie watched American chestnuts take root and produced their first crop of nuts. Edible sweet chestnut orchards have sprung up across Michigan. According to the Ag Census of 2007, Michigan has the largest number of growers and the most acreage of any state.

Chestnut tree

Grazing Fields Egg Cooperative in Charlotte, MI. 

This group has set the standard for sustainably produced eggs at a reasonable price point for food service and retail buyers. Here’s their current information;                                      “Most of the farms are in mid and west Michigan, nine in all. All the farms draw a sufficient amount of their income from being part of the egg co-op. Our label claim is that the hens are free range, meaning that they are able to go outside, have at least three square feet inside the coop, and can easily display natural behaviors like dusting feathers and scratching the ground for grit. Because GMO’s are so pervasive, we cannot label the eggs as such. However all of our farmers raise their own feed, surrounded by fields which cross pollinate. Look for Grazing Fields eggs at your local foods retailer or contact by email, orders.grazingfields@gmail.com or call 517-649-8957.                                                   To help pay for ever rising transportation costs, Grazing Fields Co Op partners with other farms for distribution of their goods. Most recently is MOO-ville Creamery, in Nashville Michigan.

Michigan Cheese Makers Cooperative

Born of imagination from the MSU Product Center, this group represents the best of our State’s Artisanal producers. Ordering and availability at retail outlets and Farmers markets is provided on the web site, as well as this brief quote below. Currently ten producer members are involved, representing every area of Michigan and the dairy farmers they source from.                                                                                                                                               “The Michigan Cheese Makers Cooperative is dedicated to the production of artisanal and farmstead cheese. Cheeses made in the “hand” of Michigan are just that – crafted primarily by hand, adhering to the standards of each of our cheese makers’ art.”

Four Seasons Produce Cooperative

The Four Seasons Produce Co Op is a Michigan based farmers organization that collectively markets produce, primarily to institutions year round. They also provide logistical and educational support to their member farmers. The Co Op launched the Spinach Pilot Project to supply spinach to their first institutional buyer, Allegiance Hospital in Jackson. Institutions in Michigan like Allegiance are jumping into the locavore movement, such as universities, and public and charter schools.
So why is this project beneficial when Allegiance could get spinach from a broad line distributor or produce company for $2 a pound? Projects like the Spinach Pilot Project are a win win situation for farmers and institutions. The Co Op guarantees fair prices for farmers, while institutions are able to fulfill their dedication to providing nutritional options for their patients and students. Locally grown produce is picked close to the day of delivery, therefore holding higher nutritional value than conventional produce. What’s unique about the Co Op is that they work to grow food year round. Farmers use hoop houses during cooler months to grow vegetables such as salad greens, spinach, and kale.
By building hoop houses and committing to grow a certain crop, they pool the supply of locally grown produce for institutions, while maintaining fair prices for themselves and their customers.They encourage small farmers to consider joining the Co Op to help meet the demand for locally grown produce.
This is certainly just a sample of Cooperative efforts in our agricultural neighborhood. If you know of a like minded effort, organization or business, we would enjoy hearing about the details. Please send us a message at our website and we will pass on the information!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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