Michigan has been my home since birth. Though many people who live here often find a million reasons to grumble about Michigan, I've got nothing but love for this gorgeous place. Call me crazy, but I love everything about it... even the snow. I love blizzards, snow storms and horrible weather. I love the dark, dreary days of winter. Why? Because they make me appreciate and savor the beautiful spring, summer and fall months. Michiganders have the chance to experience the fullness of each season.
Michigan is a land of serene landscapes and natural wonders. From dense forests, to towering sand dunes overlooking the Great Lakes, to vast meadows and farmland, to waterfalls and mountains, this is a place of utter beauty. It will take your breath away. In fact, in 2011, ABC's "Good Morning America" voted Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI as the "Most Beautiful Place in America".
My husband and son playing on the beach of Lake Michigan at gorgeous Ludington State park
And really, what other state looks like a cute cozy mitten? We Michiganders grew up being able to show people where we lived simply by pointing to a place on our palm, as in "I'm from over here, by the Thumb." Yup, I'm smitten with the Mitten.
Not only is this state full of natural wonder, it's also full of agricultural wonder. Did you know that Michigan is one of the top fruit and vegetable producing states in the America? Michigan boasts a unique climate, unlike any other place in the world. The lakes surrounding these peninsulas regulate temperature extremes, delay the onset of spring and provide much needed moisture. This one-of-a-kind climate makes Michigan an ideal place to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Did you know that according to Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Agriculture :
- Michigan is #1 in the U.S. production of blueberries (producing over 50% of the total crop nation wide)
- #1 in production of tart cherries (producing nearly 80% of the total crop nation wide)
- #1 in production of pickling cucumbers and squash
- #2 in the U.S.in production of apples (tied with New York and California. Washington comes in 1st)
- #2 in production of beans, carrots and celery
- #3 in production of sweet cherries
- #3 in production of plums and prunes
- #3 in production of asparagus (there is even a documentary about Michigan asparagus!)
- # 4 in production of grapes (used mostly for juice and winemaking)
- # 5 in production of strawberries
- # 6 in production of peaches and pears.
An impressive list, no? It's no wonder that so much of Michigan's booming tourism is centered on good food and those who are celebrating Michigan's unparalleled bounty in their restaurants, specialty stores, wine houses and breweries. In fact, there is a whole new genre of tourism taking shape - agri-tourism. That's right, people are going on vacation for the food! They are visiting places around the world to experience not only the cities and landscapes, but they also want to see where and how food is grown, and taste the food for themselves, whether it be straight off the farm or served in a local restaurant. One great example of agri-tourism is the hoards of people that flock to Traverse City Cherry Festival. Or the thousands of people that go on wine-tasting tours on the Leelanau Peninsula (which I highly recommend!).
Fresh picked Michigan apples at Historic Bowens Mills
Recently, I picked up a book at the library, titled "Tasting and Touring Michigan's Homegrown Food", written by Jaye Beeler and photographed by Dianne Carroll Burrdick (click on the link to find out more about the book and links to Michigan producers). What an adventure! These two women went on a "culinary" roadtrip around Michigan, visiting small farms, CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture farms), restaurants, specialty food stores, farmers markets, fish markets and dairies. I was utterly amazed and inspired to learn about all these hardworking people who are shaping the future of Michigan, our agriculture and our economy. I was delighted to see photographs of farmers I have run into at various events and even discovered there is a highly acclaimed goat cheese farm and creamery quite literally 1 minute from my house! Such a lovely book, with gorgeous photography and helpful guides to connect you to Michigan food producers. Be sure to check it out!
Last year, I happened to pick up another book from the library called "The Feast Nearby: How I lost a job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)" by Robin Mather. The title piqued my interested and as I started reading it, I was delighted to find out the author wrote the book while living near Middleville, MI, not far from where we live. It was wildly fascinating to read her thoughts about local farms, butcher shops and dairies that I am familiar with. Not only was it informative, it was also incredibly entertaining (and her recipes are mouthwatering)!
As many of you know, Michigan has been struggling greatly the last few years. Our economy has been floundering as we have suffered huge job losses. It has been a dismal and sobering time, with people leaving our state in droves, for lack of work and lack of hope for the future. But I see a light. I see a new future for Michigan. And it means going back to our roots. This state is an agricultural delight. It's land will help revive us, bring us back into the land of the living. According to Senator Debbie Stabenow in a January 2013 NPR interview, 1 out of 4 jobs in Michigan are related to farming, food and agriculture. I envision this number climbing even higher. There is a rapidly growing segment of the population that wants good food, that wants to buy local and dine local... that wants to believe in Michigan... that wants to show the rest of the world that we have not given up. Food and agriculture can be one of the ways to rebuild Michigan. It's time for Michigan to look towards a sustainable future, a future that centers on stewardship.
Now is the time to examine your pantry, read the labels and find out where your food is coming from. Now is the time to seek out Michigan grown goods. Now is the time to support your local farms. Now is the time to try a non-chain type restaurant with seasonal menus that features food that was grown right here, not shipped frozen in trucks halfway across the country (I just went to Grand Rapids Brewing Company last night and they have some great local food options on their menu!). Now is the time for us to take a hard look at our buying habits. Now is the time for us to support sustainable agriculture, farmers who realize agriculture is a huge part of Michigan's future... and that we had better starting treating this irreplaceable land with the respect and reverence it deserves. We are ALL called to be stewards of God's creation. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. You may never be a farmer, you may never get dirt under your fingernails, but you too can be a steward of the land by carefully and thoughtfully directing your food dollars.
Join me as we invest in Michigan's future. Let us make this great state a better place for our children and grandchildren. A place where they will want to stay and put down roots in this fertile ground. We can start today. Each time you go shopping, try to find one item produced in Michigan. When you're at the produce department, check the label on the food - on products grown in the U.S.A., often the state will be listed on there. Better yet, start buying your produce from a farmers market or farm when it's in season and preserve enough to last you the rest of the year (most fruits and veggies can be frozen, which is ridiculously easy). Start buying your meat at a local butcher shop (but be sure to ask specifically where the meat came from). Check out food buying cooperatives, like the West Michigan Cooperative, which allows members to shop for local food from local farms on-line, with a once a month pick-up, where you can meet the farmers that produce your food face-to-face. Brilliant.
I love Michigan. I believe in Michigan. Do you? Let's say "Yes!" to Michigan!