Michigan Food & Agriculture

Northern Michigan is shaped by food. Our orchards, farms and vineyards create the landscape. A burgeoning culinary scene defines many of our downtowns. And the agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries dominate our economies. 

Raclette cheese wheels age in the cellar of Leelanau Cheese Company in Suttons Bay. The company was recently awarded a Super Gold award at the World Cheese Awards in Spain.
Dan Wanschura

Anne and John Hoyt own Leelanau Cheese Company in Suttons Bay. Leelanau Cheese is famous for it’s raclette.

“When people ask what it tastes like, I often say it’s between a gouda and a gruyere,” says Anne.

 

Garlic sits ready to be judged in advance of the Third Annual Crosshatch Garlic Auction.
Dan Wanschura

Michigan has a lot of festivals. There’s a tulip festival, a cherry festival, an apple festival, we even have an asparagus festival.

Recently, I came across a sort of garlic festival that happens in Elk Rapids. 

 


NORTHWEST MICHIGAN HORTICULTURE RESEARCH CENTER

The tart cherry harvest has begun in northern Michigan. The cherry crop is large this year, but growers are dealing with rising numbers of spotted wing drosophila as they harvest.

Drosophila is a tiny insect that originally came from Asia. The bugs have found a home in Michigan in recent years, and their numbers have been growing.

Nikki Rothwell is coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center. She’s been studying spotted wing drosophila.

Jim Nugent says growers are spraying a lot more this year.

Fruit growers cut their losses after hail storm

Jul 12, 2016
Nikki Rothwell

Last Friday’s hail storm left some fruit growers with severely damaged trees. Apples and cherries took a beating in parts of Leelanau and Antrim counties.

Nikki Rothwell, coordinator at Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center, visited orchards on Monday to assess the damage.

"The hail damage really made a lot of marks on the apples," Rothwell says. "So there’s a lot of bruising, but then I do see some areas where the flesh is actually torn."

John Larson is the owner of one of Traverse City's newest restaurants, Mama Lu's.
Dan Wanschura

When chef John Larson and his family moved from Chicago to Traverse City last spring, he soon realized that getting a table at a downtown restaurant was a bit difficult at times.

"There weren't enough restaurants," says Larson. "I noticed every single place was on a two-hour wait during the summer months."

That was good news for the entrepreneur from Chicago. 

Just over a year later, Mama Lu's is now open for business just in time for the busy summer months in Traverse City.

Peter Payette

Fruit growers have a new problem: they can’t buy enough young trees to plant in their orchards.

This is especially true for cherry farmers in Michigan who depend on nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. It could get worse, and some farmers are preparing for a day when they can’t buy any trees.

Ben LaCross was supposed to be planting 6,000 sweet cherry trees this spring at his farm near Maple City. He ordered the trees from a nursery in Oregon three years ago, but there was some unusual weather there that fall.

Peter Payette

Mark Baker announced in December he was selling his farm. But now he says he has a new plan: he wants to help other military veterans take up farming.

 

Black Star Farms

Don Coe helped commercialize northern Michigan’s wine industry. He founded Black Star Farms near Suttons Bay 17 years ago.

Coe retired last month and turned Black Star Farms over to his business partner, Kerm Campbell.

In 2005, Coe led a legal fight to give wineries the right to ship their products directly across state lines. The Supreme Court upheld that right in a 5-4 decision.

Coe says Michigan’s wine industry has matured over the last 17 years and he sees more growth on the horizon as a new generation of winemakers takes over.

Food inspectors used a warrant signed by a judge to visit a farm near Cadillac last week. State police troopers were also on hand for the inspection of Bakers Green Acres last Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jennifer Holton, called the inspection “routine.”

But the farmer, Mark Baker, characterized it on his YouTube channel as a “raid.”

“They pulled in like it was a raid,” he says. “Like we were going to run the other way or flush drugs down the toilet.”

Wine grape harvest may be at all-time low this year

Sep 30, 2015
Peter Payette

It’s harvest time for wine grapes. But after one of the worst growing seasons in northern Michigan, there aren’t many grapes to make into wine.

Duke Elsner, the small fruit educator for Michigan State University extension, says, "It’s really the worst season we’ve ever seen since the mid-70’s when they started growing wine grapes in northern Michigan."

He says the extreme cold winter wiped out about 50 percent of the grape buds. Then roughly 50 percent of remaining buds were damaged in a late spring frost in May.

Honeycrisp harvest is underway in Michigan.

The many fans of Honeycrisp apples will be happy to learn that all signs point to a fine crop this year.

But that good news presents new challenges for Michigan growers.

Nova Stubbs

There are 109 people certified to sell wild mushrooms in Michigan this year. That’s after the state offered classes for foragers to get certified to sell.

Chris Wright, executive director of Midwest American Mycological Information, offers the certification classes. He says the classes have leveled the playing field. Before they became available in the past year, it wasn't clear how foragers could meet state certification requirements. So a lot of them didn't.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health, found that continuous exposure to very low doses of the herbicide Roundup might be linked to liver and kidney damage.

The researchers looked at how genes changed in rats that were given a commercial Roundup formulation containing 0.1 parts per billion of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) over a two-year period.

Michigan Wines

Bernie Rink had been growing wine grapes on his property overlooking Lake Leelanau for more than a decade when he opened his tasting room in 1976. His vineyard was the first commercial vineyard in the region.

A legal dispute between an Elk Rapids food processor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is headed back to court. Burnette Foods filed the lawsuit in 2012, claiming an administrative board that controls the cherry industry is antiquated.

Owner Bill Sherman says the cherry board has had a negative effect on his business.

“We have huge amounts of imports coming into the U.S. of tart cherry products and at the same time, we are not allowed to sell our products under the threat of severe financial penalties," says Sherman.

Aaron Selbig

If you’ve picked up a box of fresh strawberries recently from a local grocery store, there’s a good chance they were handpicked by a migrant farm worker.

The workers have been coming up from their homes in Mexico or Texas for generations. But in recent years, local farmers have noticed there are fewer workers coming to northern Michigan. They’re saying the problem is likely to get much worse.

Steve Bardenhagen grew up on his family’s farm in Leelanau County.

Traverse City Whiskey Company

Small distillers in northern Michigan would get a big tax break under a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate last week by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).

He visited Traverse City Whiskey Company on Tuesday to promote the legislation, which would lower the federal excise tax on liquor from $13.50 per gallon to $2.70.

Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center

May 17th, 2002 was the official date when tart cherry trees reached full bloom in northern Michigan that year. The orchards looked normal but most of the cherry buds had been destroyed in April by freezing cold.

The Leelanau Enterprise ran a headline that summer that said “No Cherries.”

Ben LaCross is a second generation grower on a farm north of Cedar. He says nobody could recall a cherry crop failing so completely.

Aaron Selbig

The Grand Traverse Butterfly House opened last weekend – a couple of weeks later than planned. When the first group of butterflies was introduced to the garden, they were killed by plants that contained a deadly chemical.

Now the owner of the butterfly house is concerned that local home gardeners may be unknowingly killing butterflies with the same chemical.

Cyndie Bobier says it was a chemical in the flowers she had planted that caused the first group of butterflies to die.

Fruit growers in northern Michigan grow apples, peaches and wine grapes. But the big crop here is tart cherries.

More than half of Ken Engle's 140-acre farm is planted with what he calls sour cherries.

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