After California, no state boasts more productive and diverse agriculture than Michigan. If you want proof, just look at the farmers’ markets — more than 200 now operate in Michigan — or take a drive along Fruit Ridge and see the miles of apple, cherry, and peach orchards stretching from Walker to Grant.
When the West Michigan Agricultural Education Center offered to loan us a portion of their land, we welcomed the opportunity. For a Food Bank feeding hungry people in one of the world’s richest farming regions, a better question might be, Why not farm?
Beyond simply making good sense, there are a number of reasons Feeding America West Michigan chose to start farming:
- • Health. When struggling families are trying to feed their children, they’re looking for the most calories for the lowest price. In our culture, that usually means high-sodium, low-nutrient, sugar-packed processed foods. By growing our own vegetables, we can to do our part to make sure that everyone has access to healthy food, no matter how much money they make.
- • Stewardship. By growing food locally, we’re taking a stand for the environment. Food produced close to where it’s consumed often requires less fuel, less packaging, and fewer preservatives than food shipped in from across the country. Reducing the environmental impact of our food system has always been central to our work. Last year alone, we saved nearly 24 million pounds of good food from going to waste.
- • A Dependable Source. Every summer and fall, our volunteers head out to local farms and glean the produce that remains after the harvest. While this is a great way to gather nutritious, farm-fresh produce for our clients, and we eagerly anticipate these opportunities every year, due to the nature of gleaning, we typically only have a couple days to coordinate the event. Growing our own crops allows us to plan for the harvest months in advance, making sure that none of that food goes to waste.
- • Taste. Have you ever eaten a handful of blueberries right off the bush? Or been taken aback by how sweet your spaghetti sauce tastes when you use tomatoes from the farmers’ market? If so, you won’t need us to convince you that nothing really comes close to homegrown fruits and vegetables. Shouldn’t those in need have access to the same kind of high quality local food the rest of us enjoy?
A few resources to help you find West Michigan-grown food:
- LocalHarvest.org — Find farms, CSAs, and butchers near you
- Michigan Farmers Market Association — Search for farmers’ markets by city, county, day, and Bridge-Card friendliness
- Slow Food West Michigan — View farms, restaurants, breweries, and grocery stores whose food is local, sustainable, and high quality
- MSU Extension — Educate yourself about the local food system and get involved
A few of the local growers who support the Food Bank: