The Agri-Tourist’s Guide to Taking a Michigan Farm Tour

Spring is here, which means Michigan’s growing season is just around corner. Today, the Michigan Agritourism Association shares their insider tips for having some fun on a Michigan farm this summer. 

postfarm

As warmth fills the air and the sun stays up longer each day, spring is a welcome relief from a winter of bone-chilling temperatures. Michigan farms are waking up. Greenhouses are planted, seedlings are sprouting, newly born baby animals cry out, and orchards will soon be blooming.  Farm crews are opening up the barns, dusting “winter” off the play areas, and preparing to open the wonder of a farm to visitors.

Asparagus3Fresh, delicious, local produce will soon be available at road-side stands and farm markets, along with an opportunity to interact with those who grow your food. Asparagus is the first harbinger of spring  that normally pops out of the ground in early May. It can be prepared in so many different ways and is a treat to the taste buds after a long winter.

Insider tip:  Since it is only available fresh for about 6 weeks, try to get it as frequently as you can before it is gone for the season! 

This year’s Asparagus festival is May 15-17 and includes a Kick Ass-paragus 5K Fun Run/Walk, the infamous asparagus poem contest, a parade full of homemade asparagus hats and more.

In June, strawberries make their debut!  Many Michigan farms offer picked or u-pick strawberries, which is a fun experience for families. Ask the farm folks to show you the different growth stages of a strawberry:   from their start as small white blossoms to plump red ones which quickly fill up a quart box.

SB6_11_14Insider tip:  Wear a red shirt for when the strawberry juice drips down your chin!

In late June and into July, the growing season kicks into high gear with cherries, raspberries and blueberries.  If you loved picking strawberries, look for farms that offer U-Pick on these fruits, too.

Insider tip: If you’re not already a jammer, try hand-making jams and jellies and freeze them to savor the flavors year round!

The National Cherry Festival in Traverse City is one of the oldest and largest festivals in the country. The eight-day celebration, held July 4-11th this year, is jam-packed with activities for all ages. Though not as large, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries take main stage at various festivals around the state.

tomatoesThrough mid-July well into August, indulge in fabulous Michigan sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, sweet onions, peaches, plums, and almost any vegetable you desire.

Insider tip:  Visit the farm market first to get what is locally fresh in season, then plan the rest of your meal planning and shopping from there. Grilled vegetables?  Absolutely delicious!

For longer outings, look for farms which offer farm-style play areas, animal petting, and educational sessions and tours. Enjoy the onsite bakeries and food venues for fruit slushies, ice cream, fruit pies and of course – donuts!   We have no scientific proof, but farm bakery donuts just taste better when eaten while enjoying fresh air and the views of a farm!  A down-to-earth farm outing will simulate all five senses, teach you how food is grown, and most importantly, it’s just plain fun.

donutsInsider tip: Look for picnic areas, inviting benches and chairs to pull up and soak it all in. 

Plan your next experience by searching for local farms at www.michiganfarmfun.com or with a printed directory available at Michigan Agritourism Member locations, Michigan Farm Bureau offices, Michigan Welcome Centers or by calling the Michigan Agritourism Association office at (866) 964-3628.

Have you been to a Michigan farm? Tell us about your visit!

Allissa McManus and Beth Hubbard are passionate Board members of the Michigan Agritourism Association, which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote agritourism by supporting our membership of farmers, farm marketers, and agritourism operators, who work tirelessly to provide fresh, delicious produce, education and farm fun to residents and visitors of our great State of Michigan. For more information about us and our members, please visit www.michiganfarmfun.com.

Get Your Fall Fix at These Michigan Cider Mills and Orchards

Whether your preference is tart and tangy, crisp and crunchy, or sweet and juicy, there’s  a Michigan apple variety to satisfy all taste buds. Many apple aficionados prefer Michigan Honeycrisp and Jonagold for their crisp bite and distinctive flavor, while Fuji and Gala are usually enjoyed fresh. Either way, you can’t go wrong by taking a bite into a Michigan apple this fall!

 So where will you take your first sip or bite this fall? Check out our roundup of all things apple.

SONY DSC

The Orchards – where U-Pick!

Westview Orchards and Adventure Farm is a 188-acre award- winning family farm and orchard. Located 45 minutes north of Detroit, the orchard features a Farm Market open 8-6 daily, June through December 24th, with homegrown fruits and fall vegetables, fresh bakery items, honey, apple cider, and more. The famous U-Pick open with cherries in late June through mid-July, peaches in early August through Labor Day, apples in late August through end of October, and pumpkins in late September through end of October. Make sure you don’t leave without picking up one of Westview’s signature “flips” or pies!

Take a fall trip to see the colors and make a stop at Miller’s Big Red Apple Orchard. Miller’s U-Pick includes apples, pumpkins, raspberries and strawberries. The pies, breads, jams and jellies are made fresh from scratch with all home grown ingredients. Miller’s Big Red invites you and your family to let them show you what fall is all about in the orchard.

Photo courtesy of Facebook fan Davey Robinson

Photo courtesy of Facebook fan Davey Robinson

Crane Orchards and Corn Maze Today, aside from producing almost all of the fruit that the Pie Pantry needs for its fruit desserts and apple cider, Crane Orchards is one of the finest u-pick orchards in Michigan. With over 15 different varieties of apples, peaches and sweet cherries for the discriminating u-picker to choose from, the scenery is breath taking. When your basket is full, get lost in a 15-acre family-friendly Corn Maze! Hayrides are offered to visitors in the fall after a long day of u-picking and maze navigating.

At Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill in Armada, enjoy apple and pumpkin picking, train or hay rides, Barnyard Funland and animal farm, and cider & donuts on your visit to the country. You can even pick your own strawberries, asparagus, raspberries, pears and tomatoes. Blake’s also features dwarf fruit trees and thousands of Christmas trees mid November thru December 23rd!

Nestled in rolling hills dotted with farms, Alber’s Orchard and Cider Mill near Manchester has been in business since 1890. View an old fashioned cider press, enjoy the freshest ice cold cider around.

The Cider Mills

The Historic Dexter Cider Mill near Ann Arbor is the oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan. Today, the cider mill keeps its more than 120-year old cider making tradition by using an oak rack press and blending three to five different locally grown apple varieties in every pressing.

The Franklin Cider Mill opened in 1832 and has been serving hungry, and thirsty, customers since. The mill happy sells many fresh products, including fresh-pressed cider, hot donuts, freshly baked pies and caramel and candy apples made at the mill. Franklin also offers some of the tastiest smoked been and cheese varieties around!

YatesMill

Yates Cider Mill in Rochester Hills has been water-powered since 1863, and presses 300 gallons of fresh blended apple cider per hour. Visitors can also indulge in fresh donuts, apple pies, fudge, apple crisp, jams, and more.  including freshly pressed cider, hot donuts, freshly baked pies and caramel and candy apples made on at the mill. Franklin also offers smoked beef and many varieties of cheese.

Parmenter’s Northville Cider Mill specializes in fresh apple cider, donuts and caramel apples. The mill also has a winery available for wine tasting.

During a visit to Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. John’s, visit the bakery and enjoy fresh baked pies, breads, cookies and pastries. Before you leave, check out the gift shop and sample some wines in the tasting room. Finally, take a leisurely stroll through 1.5 mile scenic groomed nature trail.

Vander Mill is a cider mill and winery that serves the greater West Michigan area. The winery specializes in hard Ciders and apple wines, and is an active participant in  local farmers markets offering fresh cider, hot cider, fresh donuts, fresh baked pies, homemade fudge, homemade cinnamon roasted almonds, and Michigan preserves, salsas and sauces.

These are just a few of the many orchards and cider mills in Michigan. Do you have a favorite to add to the list? 

Michigan Apple Fun Facts

Think Michigan apples and cider are merely tasty fall treats? Think again! See what these fantastic fruits mean to the state’s economy…and your health!

 There are more than 9.2 million apple trees in commercial production, covering 36,500 acres on 850 family-run farms in Michigan.

Michigan apples are available August through June each year, thanks to atmosphere-controlled storage.

In 2013, Michigan harvested an estimated 30 million bushels (1.26 billion pounds) of apples.

The Michigan Honeycrisp’s popularity makes it hard for apples growers to keep up with demand.

Varieties_2web

Michigan slices more apples than any other state for use in pies and fresh cut slices and also processes apples into applesauce, fresh and shelf-stable apple cider and apple juice.

There are five regions in the state of Michigan related to apple orchard tours. These regions are: northwest, southeast, central west, central east and southwest.

Michigan apples offer a variety of benefits that contribute to a healthy diet. These benefits include reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke, cancer and heart disease.

On average, Michigan apples only contain 80 calories.

Learn more about Michigan apples in the video below.

Now that you know Michigan apples are both delicious and a huge part of the state’s agriculture, where will you go first?

Celebrate National Asparagus Month with These Fun Facts and Events

Did you know that May is National Asparagus Month? Today, guest blogger Nicole Heslip from Michigan Farm Radio Network shares some fun facts, events and a simple, delicious recipe to help us celebrate asparagus season in Pure Michigan. 

For other ways to celebrate Michigan agriculture, visit michigan.org to help you plan a visit to a U-pick farm, orchard or farm market near you.

Asparagus3It’s nutritious, flavorful, and one of Michigan’s first signs of spring. Michigan asparagus is the state’s first green vegetable harvested each year, and this year, it’s fashionably late. A typical Michigan asparagus harvest begins in mid April, but in the wake of our long, cold winter and cooler spring, that’s not the case this year. After a near-three-week delay in the growing season, asparagus stalks are finally making their way to a farm stand or produce isle near you! 

Nestled on Michigan’s west coast, the majority of Michigan asparagus is grown in Oceana County, the Asparagus Capitol of the World! Hart, Michigan is home to the National Asparagus Festival, set for June 6-8th this year, and our very own Asparagus Queen. Travel down the coast near South Haven, and you’ve stepped foot in the second-largest producing area of the state. There are about 10,000 acres in Michigan producing asparagus, mostly between these two regions.

Harvest is typically a six to seven week season, with May in the center of it all. In fact, May celebrates Michigan Asparagus Month! Unlike crops like corn that can be picked, combined or chopped just once, all asparagus in Michigan is hand harvested. Throughout the season, asparagus will continue generating new growth, which means harvesters could make 25 to 35 trips across each field to harvest the complete crop. Import competition and labor shortages have dropped acreage in Washington state from 32,000 acres down to less than 6,000. As a result, Michigan moved up in the ranks as the 2nd largest producer of asparagus in the nation, producing just less than 21 million pounds.

ApsaragusThis year’s harvest is expected to be in full swing around the middle of May and through June. Despite the late start, the crop can have a successful year, as long as Mother Nature cooperates and farmers find a workforce for harvesting. Our fresh-picked asparagus will be marketed one of three ways. It can be processed as asparagus cuts or whole spears, or it will be sold on the fresh market.

Coming to farm markets and produce sections near you, with only a two month harvest window, be sure to stock up and enjoy fresh Michigan asparagus this May.

Once you’ve made a visit to your local U-pick farm or farm market, keep the Michigan asparagus celebration going with this delicious recipe from Michigan Ag Council:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 5.25.48 PMHerb Frittata with Michigan Asparagus and Goat Cheese

Servings : 4
Time : 15 minutes

Ingredients:

6-8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces (May also roast. steam or sauté asparagus)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used some dried dill weed from my last year’s garden)
3/8 teaspoon salt
A pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces soft goat cheese (about 1/4 cup)

Directions

Combine asparagus and 1/4 cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl; cover and microwave at HIGH 2 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water; drain. Combine chives, dill, salt, pepper,nutmeg and eggs in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk.
Preheat broiler to high.
Heat a small ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat.
Add asparagus and egg mixture to pan; cook 3 minutes or until eggs are partially set, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cheese.
Place pan under broiler. Broil 2 minutes or until eggs are set and top is lightly browned.
Remove pan from oven. Run a spatula around edge and under frittata to loosen from pan; slide frittata onto a plate or cutting board. Cut into 4 wedges.

Have you been to a Michigan farm market? Where did you go?

Nicole_Heslip_headshotNicole Heslip is an Agri-News Reporter for the Michigan Farm Radio Network, bringing the latest market updates and agricultural news to more than 250,000 listeners across Michigan. She also currently serves on the communications workgroup for the Michigan Agricultural and Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).  Nicole grew up as a dairy farmer’s daughter in Allegan County, where her family today milks more than 2,200 cows and operates a custom farming business.