Twenty Things You Might Not Have Known About Michigan Agriculture

Today is National Agriculture Day! Guest blogger Barbara Ann Siemen, known as Farm Barbie, shares 20 little known facts about freshly grown Michigan food and agriculture. 

Barbara and her family on their beet field

Barbara and her family on their sugar beet field

I’ve always been in love with Michigan. I believe it is unparalleled in its diversity of seasons, activities, and food! We are a very active family; we enjoy many things Michigan has to offer including camping, water sports, snowmobiling, and of course, food and farming! On our farm, we produce dairy, beef, corn, wheat, and sugar beets, but I’m always interested in learning more about other commodities.

Did you know Michigan farmers produce 300 different types of food and agricultural products? Michigan is also home to many national brands that you know, love, and trust. Recently, Governor Snyder proclaimed March “Food and Agriculture Month” due to Ag’s positive impact on Michigan’s economy. Check out this list which highlight some of Michigan’s lesser known areas of agriculture.

1. Sugar: Michigan Sugar Company is the only sugar processor in the state. It processes sugar for Pioneer, Big Chief, and more than 20 other private labels. Sugar is important in the production of soda pop, such as Vernor’s and Faygo, which are proud Michigan brands. Our farm grows sugar beets, which are harvested in autumn.

2. Cherries: Michigan ranks 1st in the nation for tart cherry production, and 4th for sweet cherries. Check out this website for more info on Michigan cherry wines. I like to drink a little tart cherry juice right before bedtime.

3. Milk: Michigan ranks 1st in the nation for the production of low fat ice cream mix, but Michigan dairy farmers also contribute to other products such as Hudsonville ice cream, Kraft cheese, Yoplait yogurt, Michigan Made cottage cheese, and Country Fresh sour cream.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 11.56.34 AM4. Beans: Michigan is 1st in the nation for production of dry black beans, cranberry beans, and small red beans and 2nd for production of all dry beans. Bush’s Beans, based in Tennessee, buys beans from Michigan!

5. Potatoes: Michigan is the nation’s leading producer of potatoes in potato chip processing. Better Made Chips, which just turned 85, are a favorite Michigan brand. We like taking a bag of chips with us on the boat, or in the camper in the summer.

6. Grapes: Michigan has over 100 commercial wineries, and ranks 1st in the nation for production of Niagara grapes and 8th for wine grape production.

7. Nursery: Nursery and perennial plants are the 2nd largest agricultural commodity group in Michigan.

8. Eggs: Michigan egg farmers supply all the eggs to McDonald’s restaurants east of the Mississippi River. Check out this video from McDonald’s. My kids take care of a small flock of laying hens, and they produce enough for us, and a few neighbors, family members, and friends.

9. Blueberries: Michigan is number 1 for production of blueberries for the entire nation and only 600 Michigan family farms do it all! That’s amazing! I like to use blueberries in this breakfast bake. Yum!

5019864379_a35c8468f5_b10. Cucumbers: Michigan ranks number 1 in the nation for production of cucumbers for pickling, and 4th for fresh market cucumbers.

11. Maple syrup: Maple syrup production is the oldest agricultural enterprise in the United States. Right now, in spring, is the time to tap trees! Battel’s Sugar Bush, which is near me, is hosting a tour and pancake breakfast as part of Michigan Maple Weekend.

12. Christmas trees: Michigan supplies 3 million Christmas trees annually to the national market. Real Christmas trees are so beautiful! I love driving past Christmas tree farms in the winter months.

13. Apples: Michigan slices more apples than any other state for use in pies. Michigan also processes apples into applesauce, fresh and shelf-stable apple cider, and apple juice, such as Indian Summer juice which is made in Michigan too! My family loves a cup of fresh cider with a doughnut in autumn.

14. Wheat: Michigan wheat farmers contribute to the national market in a big way, too.  In fact, one of the top 5 counties for producing wheat is Huron, which is where I live! Wheat is used in products from Michigan brands such as Kellogg’s cereals, Aunt Millie’s breads, and Jiffy mixes.

15. Squash: Michigan is 2nd for squash and carrot production, which is good for Michigan companies such as Gerber baby foods. Squash and carrots were favorites with my kids when they were babies!

16. Tomatoes: Michigan is 9th in the nation for production of fresh market tomatoes. This is good news for me, because I love using fresh tomatoes for pico de gallo, which is an easy bbq party dish.

17. Cranberries: Cranberries are grown in Michigan too! I never knew that! Michigan has 280 acres of cranberries and they are harvested every year from September through November.

3307466046_a91c527ea6_b18. Peaches: Michigan is 6th in the nation for production of fresh market peaches. Look out, Georgia! Michigan is in the ranks.

19. Honey: Michigan honey bees are busy little bees! Check out this resource, to find local honey.

20. Farmer’s Markets: Michigan is 4th in the nation for farmer’s markets, supplying fresh farmer products to Michiganders every week. Port Austin is a huge farmer’s market in the Thumb, where I live. The market is very busy in the summer months!

As you can see, there’s so much to love about Michigan! Whether it is the seasons, a multitude of outdoor activities, or the vast array of agricultural products, I believe Pure Michigan is the finest in the nation! I could go on and on about Michigan and food, but to find out more for yourself, visit MichiganAgriculture.com. While you’re online, check out my family’s favorite breakfast recipe: Farm Barbie’s Waffles of Pancakes. Don’t forget to serve them up with Pure Michigan maple syrup!

Which Michigan grown products are your favorites? Learn more about Michigan agriculture in the video below.

FB Profile picBarbara Ann Siemen, known as Farm Barbie, is a city girl turned country chick, thanks to falling in love with a farmer. She’s a stay at home mom and professional farmer’s wife. She’s also an amateur photographer, chef, and fashionista and an aspiring children’s book author. Check out her blog.

 

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.

Eight Awesome Spring Activities to Enjoy this Season

Today, guest blogger Jennifer Hamilton of The Awesome Mitten gives us the run down on some great spring activities to enjoy in Pure Michigan this season.

When thinking about what activities I will be participating in this spring, ideas such as flood-proofing my home and shopping for heavy-duty rain boots came to mind. However, I dug a little deeper into my brain and with the help of others, came up with some great spring activities that we can all delight in.

Spring Building

Spring BuildingI once visited the Upper Peninsula  and was shocked to find my friend building a bonfire in the driveway. If you want to have a bonfire and do not have a fire pit, no fear, there is an excellent Plan B. It is as simple as using a steel wheelbarrow, placing kindling and logs inside, and making fire! It is great fun and a unique way to hold a bonfire almost anywhere.

Other fantastic springtime building projects are birdhouses and bird baths. Birdhouses and baths are always useful, and they are a great project for families to create together.

Spring Eats

During the winter, there are certain comfort foods we consume on a regular basis; soup, slow cooker delights, and various heavy pasta dishes. Spring food is so much more exciting! Most importantly, we can all get our grills out again. There is nothing more delightful than recognizing that grill smell for the first time after a long winter. Additionally, seasonal foods are about to make a great change. Locally grown watermelon, tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers will soon be at our disposal. As we all know, nothing tastes as good as local produce.

Motorcycle/Bicycle Rides

A great way to delight in the smells, sights, and sounds of spring is to get out there on your favorite two-wheeled contraption. Whether you prefer pedaling a bicycle or gliding along on a motorcycle, just go enjoy the fresh air. A fellow Awesome Mitten writer mentioned that he loves going for motorcycle rides to Michigan’s best ice cream spots. And of course, our beloved potholes become a fun obstacle to weave around.

Garden Planning

Though the ground may be taking ages to thaw, it is never too early to decide what you want to grow this year. Some of these items may even be started indoors in pots and transferred outside when the time is right. Michigan’s garden centers are filling up with people buying soil, indoor planters, and seed packets. Items such as tomatoes, broccoli, and cabbage are great produce goods to start growing indoors, then transfer to an outdoor garden.

Disc Golf

Once the snow is melted enough, spring is a great time to explore some of Michigan’s disc golf courses. The sport has exploded over the last ten years, and many parks have taken notice and constructed courses as a result. Many courses wind through the woods, near water, and over beautiful areas of land. Disc golf does not require much physical effort, either, so people of almost any fitness level can participate and enjoy.

Spring Races

Disc GolfSpring is when fairweather runners make a comeback. Jump into a 5K to kickstart this running season! The best part about spring races is that many of them are themed; Easter Races, 5Ks with pets, and costume races start their season in March and continue on through the rest of the year. The best kind of race is the kind that allows you to get a little creative while running, then celebrating with some great food and beverages from race sponsors afterward! RunMichigan.com is jam-packed with races that take place literally every weekend; take a peak and pick one out.

 

 

Fishing

To go along with the great activity of grilling, one needs to catch some fish. Opening day of trout season is the last Saturday of April, so get those fishing licenses ready. Creeks, streams, rivers, bays, and lakes are all full of great tasting fish that want to come home with you. On one occasion, I even had the pleasure of purchasing live worms that had been injected with a fluorescent green dye, making the worms glow in the dark. So get those green worms ready, folks, it’s fishing season!

Morel Mushroom Picking

RelaxingThis is an activity for those with patience. It can be very tedious, but it is a spectacular way to get deep into the woods and spend quality time with your face near the ground of mother nature. Many people cook and eat these mushrooms, and quite a few also sell these morels at a fairly decent price. I do advise going in areas you are familiar with, or at least taking your phone with a GPS because it is alarmingly easy to lose track of oneself out there.

In short, spring is messy, but it is the loveliest kind of messy. Spring is for mud puddles, open windows, and new life. We Michiganders survived one crazy winter; now it is time to rejoice with a fine patio cocktail.

What are your favorite spring activities? 

1236752_10104693579790294_533864666_nJennifer Hamilton is a graduate student and outdoor enthusiast living in Traverse City. Jennifer splits her time between working in the substance abuse field, writing for the Awesome Mitten, and chasing after her three dogs.