Monthly Archives: May 2014

Vicksburg Farmers’ Market Moves to New Home

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On May 16, the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market will move into its new home at the pavilion at 300 North Richardson Street.

“We are so excited to finally have a permanent location to call home,” said Carol Lafrance, president of the Market’s nonprofit board. “If you’re a regular customer, you already know what a treasure our market is. And if you’ve never shopped with us before, you’re in for a treat.”

The Market is committed to bringing locally grown goods straight from the farm to the customers’ tables. The Market has more than 20 vendors, some of whom have been with it from the start and others who will be joining the group for the first time this year.

Although there won’t be many of the sweet fruits and crisp vegetables available in May, there will be locally made cheese, eggs straight from the chicken, fresh baked breads and sweet treats, meats raised locally without antibiotics or growth hormones, and, for the first time, maybe some wine sales.

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Rachel Freeman rides her bike to the market.

“We also house specialty vendors selling hot foods such as pasties, hot dogs, and tacos; annuals and perennials, herbs to plant, and fresh cut flowers; home-made soaps and lotions as well,” said Lafrance.

At the Market Manager’s table, customers can use their credit or debit card if everything just looks so good that they run a little short on cash, Lafrance said.

The Market also accepts Generous Hands coupons. Bridge cards are also welcome and can be combined with Double Up Food Bucks to double spending power up to $20.00 a week. They also participate in WIC Fresh and Project Fresh for Seniors.

“So come and check out the Market on May 16 at the new pavilion home, on the Historic Village grounds,” she said. “You won’t be disappointed, as the Market excitement of being in its new home is the driving force in the board’s preparations for the middle of May.”

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Board members of the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market are front row – l to r, Pat Hjertos, and Maureen Wiertella. Back row from l to r, Kay Anderson, Carol LaFrance, and Stella Shearer. Missing from the photo, Sue Moore and Bob Smith.

Taste of Vicksburg Plans Coming Together

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By Sue Moore

The Taste of Vicksburg, in its second year this June will have some new wrinkles to please the large crowds it generated in 2013, according to Steve McCowen, the main organizer for the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce sponsored event.

Eleven local food purveyors are participating, each one set to showcase a special dish from their restaurant. They will not be as crowded together under one tent as before, McCowen says. The food vendors will be open for tasting from 3 – 7 p.m. up and down Prairie Street. A $1 ticket enables the customer to sample at any given table. Visitors can purchase as many tickets as they like.

The Art Hop from 3-8 p.m. on the same day, will take place on Main Street, with Tanya DeLong of Tanya’s Girl Garage heading up this part of the plan. Artists are being recruited and she expects a good turn-out of local talent. The new owners of the Little Bulldogs Learning Center are planning the family activities out in the closed off area of the street.

A Cut-A-Thon to raise money for Vicksburg High Schools ‘Big Red Machine’ band uniforms is being planned. Volunteer hair stylists will only charge $10 for haircuts from 1-5 p.m. at the corner of Main Street and Washington, with the money going entirely to the band’s uniform fund. The contact person is Tanya DeLong for interested people wanting to participate.

The sounds of Dani Jamison’s band will waft up the streets beginning at 6:30. She is well known in these parts because her mother is a teacher at Indian Lake School. She has been traveling to Nashville to write songs, while playing gigs in the SW Michigan area.

The headliner band beginning at 9 and playing until 11 p.m. will be will be the David Shelby band. His first CD was a hit, called Rust Belt Cowboy. He is in production for his second CD.

And, of course there will be beer to taste as well, according to McCowen.

Vicksburg Library Houses Reference Materials on Local Farming

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By Andrea Smalley, Children’s Librarian

Do you know what Michigan business sector employs more than 923,000 people and brings in over $91 billion to the state’s economy? It’s Michigan agriculture, and it’s happening all over South Kalamazoo County.

According to the Michigan Agriculture Council, Michigan is the nation’s number one producer of blueberries, tart cherries, cucumbers for pickles, Niagara grapes, dry black beans, and low-fat ice cream mix. Michigan is also in the top three producers nationwide of carrots, celery, hostas, marigolds, squash, apples, asparagus and so much more.

Michigan agriculture is the past, present, and future of Southern Kalamazoo County. To explore the history of agriculture in the area, come in to the Vicksburg District Library and take a look at books such as “Glimpses of a 19th Century Village” by Mabel Hudson Hawkins; “Water Over the Dam” by Grace Molineaux; “In the Service of the Farmer : My Life in the Michigan Farm Bureau” by Clark L. Brody; and “Michigan’s Centennial Family Farm Heritage” by Mary L. Wermuth. These titles explain how agriculture shaped the growth of Vicksburg and all of Michigan and trace the history of individual farms and farmers in the area.

The Library also has books for those interested in experimenting with agriculture themselves. “Homesteading: How to Find New Independence on the Land” by Gene Logsdon; “The Complete Homesteading Book” by David Robinson; “Urban Farming” by Thomas J. Fox; and “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter all provide guidance for readers considering taking part in Michigan’s current agricultural bounty.

The Vicksburg District Library also has plenty of resources for future farmers. The Fun Facts series, donated to the library by the Farm Bureau Young Farmers, covers “Farm Animals,” “Farm Equipment,” “Farm Crops,” and “Farm History” for young readers.

Books like “Cool Jobs for Yard-Working Kids” by Pam Scheunemann; “Muck and Magic” by Jo Readman; and “Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots” by Sharon Lovejoy offer practical advice to get children involved with agriculture, gardening, and entrepreneurship.

These books are just a few examples of the Vicksburg District Library’s resources on Michigan and agriculture.

Whether it is large or small-scale farming, a child’s garden today or a 150 year old centennial farm, agriculture helps define Michigan, and the Vicksburg District Library can help you explore it.

Schoolcraft Farmers Market Opens June 4

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The Schoolcraft Farmers Market opens for the season on Wednesday, June 4, and will be open every Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. through mid-October. This is the fourth year for the Farmers Market, run by volunteers from the Schoolcraft United Methodist Church.

Vendor applications for the market are now being accepted. Space rental is $10 a week for a 10×10 stall or $100 for the season.

Nonprofit and fundraising groups may attend any day for no charge with advance approval,and several special market days are planned throughout the season.

The market is located on US 131 at Clay Street at “The Church With the Big Red Doors.”

To download an application form or to view a list of frequently asked questions, visit the church’s website at http://www.schoolcraftumc.org and look to the left column where it says Farmers Market.

Both forms may be downloaded as pdf files. For those without computer access, an application form is available by calling 269-679-4845.

Walther Farms Raises Potatoes, Family and Community

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Jason Walther in his office on U.S. 131, south of Schoolcraft, can control many of the field functions in far flung locations such as their farms in Colorado, South Carolina, and Illinois, from his computer.

By Sue Moore

Potato farming for Walther Farms has grown from 80 acres in Clio, Michigan, in 1946 to over 13,000 acres throughout the U.S., with headquarters now located near Schoolcraft.

“We grow people by growing potatoes,” is the company’s slogan.

Their 150 team members include the third generation of the Walther family, spread out on farms from Newberry, MI, to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado and the Three Rivers/Schoolcraft area. Walther uncles, cousins and brothers reside on the family farms, all steeped in the science and passion for farming and their community, according to Jason Walther, CEO of the business.

The grandparents of this clan began farming in Clio, MI, growing vegetables, livestock and selling produce at the historic Eastern Market in Detroit. They had four sons who all helped to grow the farming business.

Now the third generation has taken the reins of the operation.

“Long ago, we realized that the family had a knack for growing potatoes and getting great quality while doing so,” said Walther. “The soil for growing should be sandy loam which drew the operation to Schoolcraft and various plots of land in St. Joseph and Cass Counties where there is plenty of this soil type. Irrigation is very important for better yields and quality.”

Growing potatoes takes three months and then harvesting them takes four to five weeks, said Walther, but delivering them is a year-round task.

“There is a huge demand for locally grown food and the customer relationship with the farmer,” he said. “The American consumer has a renewed interest in how their food is grown and we appreciate that.”

The company sells to potato chip processors and has long standing relationships with these other businesses.

“We love them and they love us,” he said.
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A local customer for Walther potatoes is Meijer. Walther Farms is a partner in Fresh Solution Farms in White Pigeon which distributes to Meijer 52 weeks of the year. This helps to reduce the food miles driven and lowers supply chain costs for the customers.

Growing potatoes has become a high-tech, science based, business.

“The seed potato is grown in Newberry, in the Upper Peninsula,” said Walther. “That keeps the seed isolated, pure, and free of disease. Our fields are all computerized, and even some of the tractors these days can drive themselves. We can run pivots in South Carolina from our offices right here on U.S. 131.”

The company is also beginning to use drones which use infrared images to help them understand their fields so that the proper amount of water and fertilizer can be applied, he said, noting that it’s very important to take good care of the land.

Walther predicts the next big thing in agriculture will be genetics.

“You can debate genetically modified organisms (GMO) but if we are to continue to feed the world population as it increases, the farmer will need biotechnology as the key to our ability to grow enough food,” he said.

Walther Farms also gives back to the community. For the last five years, the Walther Foundation has been contributing food to the back pack program in Three Rivers. Last year, they packed 33,000 meals for 260 kids in the “paw pack” program for the school children.

This year, the Foundation has donated $50,000 to the Schoolcraft Schools to continue the HumaneX program that helps to build teams of educators, equip leaders, and initiate a world class culture that ultimately impacts performance, he said.

Schoolcraft Farmers Market to Accept SNAP

By Cheri Bales

The 2014 Schoolcraft United Methodist Church Farmers Market will begin accepting SNAP food benefits this year. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and is the largest program in the domestic “hunger safety net.”

“What this means, is that area families will now have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables by using their SNAP benefits,” say market organizers. “We went through a fairly rigorous process to be approved to accept the SNAP cards; we hope to grow the program to include both the SSNAP (Senior Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women Infants and Children program).”

Many families in the South County area qualify for food assistance program benefits. Almost 19 percent of the population of Kalamazoo County is living at or below the poverty level, and, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy, school children qualifying for free or reduced lunch number 824 in Vicksburg and 238 in Schoolcraft.

Organizers predict that not all vendors at the Schoolcraft market will accept the SNAP card, but they are hopeful that vendors will see the ease and benefits of using the program and decide to participate.

Wiley Farms Launches Community Supporting Agriculture Program

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By Sue Moore

Kurt Wiley, owner of Wiley Farms on U Avenue, is launching a Community Supporting Agriculture (CSA) program where buyers can purchase a share of the season’s harvest. Members sign a contract to help support the farm and, in return, receive a healthy supply of seasonal fresh produce for 22 weeks of the growing season.

Wiley values the relationship between his customers and the food they eat and the land it is grown on and those who grow it. This relationship provides the freshest possible produce, builds community between farmers and consumers, keeps food dollars in the local community, and creates an opportunity for dialogue between farmers and consumers.  To join the CSA, Wiley can be reached at 269-679-5511.

Wiley produces a variety of crops on an old-fashioned truck farm that he has expended from about eight acres in 2008 to about 30 acres today.

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Caroline and Kurt Wiley show off the box they plan to use for CSA customers to pick up their weekly vegetable and fruit allotment. The family cat isn’t a part of the contract, the Wileys say.

He sells the many vegetables he grows at the Vicksburg Farmers Market, Texas Corners Farmers Market and his own roadside stand called Veggies on U. To accomplish this, he has installed three new hoop houses to grow and incubate the many varieties of crops he has for sale.

Most of the acreage is near the road and that helps people see their food growing, he said. The crops he is nurturing in the hoop houses or the three high tunnels, for the early birds at the market include the usual vegetables and some specialties such as garlic, Swiss Chard, collards, kohlrabi, kale, eggplant, basil, rutabaga, and lots of fresh flowers.

Wiley’s small farm is in direct contrast with the two other huge farming operations on the east and west side of Kalamazoo County which are profiled in the newspaper this month.

Small farms can be just as satisfying, Wiley said. That’s because so many customers are interested in knowing where their food is raised and how it is handled. This trend makes it all worthwhile for him, especially with the rise of local farmers markets.

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The hoop house in the background helps to get a jump start in the spring for the plants in the foreground.

“I like farming better because it’s different all the time,” he said. “For years, I did cabinet making and I still do some woodworking in the winter, but this is so much more satisfying. It’s still like living on the edge because the public doesn’t realize when fruits and vegetables come ripe in Michigan, since they are always available in the big box grocery stores. What they do understand is the taste of fresh from the farmers’ markets, and that’s what keeps us going.”

Wiley is assisted by his mother Caroline, his faithful dog Rex, and several seasonal workers who help plant and harvest.

Fritz Farms Combines Technology with a Passion for the Land

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Jason Gatlin, standing, and Ben Fritz, seated, have completely mechanized the paperwork on this farm near Fulton.

By Sue Moore

The biggest problem with technology is when things break down and you try to fix them yourself, you can’t, says Ben Fritz, farmer from Fulton.

Fritz and his father, John, who died in 2003, have been on the cutting edge of technology in farming for years. Four years ago, Ben brought Jason Gatlin into the organization to support his growing technology needs on a farm that has 20 employees and over 10,000 acres under cultivation in Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Calhoun counties.

Gatlin took the numerous challenges of integrating technology with agriculture head on. Some challenges were migrating to electronic field documentation by using sub-inch global positioning systems (GPS) and employee training in the new systems. A major project was getting rid of the mountains of paper lying around in the offices and stacked clear to the ceiling, by developing a paperless, document management system.

Today the record keeping is all on a networked computer system, tracking everything down to the inventory of parts to be ordered each day to keep all the machinery running smoothly.

“Because we rely on our computer systems to keep the businesses running, we perform live offsite backups of our systems for disaster recovery purposes,” says Fritz.

Fritz started using GPS five or six years ago. It was an efficiency thing.

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Ben Fritz displays a painting of the family barn that once hung in the Hide-A-Way bar before it was redecorated. Scott Plankenhorn, the owner, brought it out to the Fritz Farm as a gift. This particular barn still stands on 38th Street and has the tallest peak of any barn in Kalamazoo County, Fritz said.

“Not only did we become 15 percent more efficient in the use of fuel and the amount of hours put on all the equipment, but we also see a savings in seed and fertilizer costs by utilizing variable rate plantings and applications,” Fritz says. “The world population keeps growing and farmers are charged with feeding the people. Just a few years ago the national average was approximately 130 bushels of corn per acre and now it’s close to 165 bushels per acre. The U.S. is the best place to keep up with this explosion as we have the best soil, due to glaciation. Brazil is close behind.”

The next thing in farming he believes will be the use of drones to scout fields for nitrogen deficiency, irrigation on the property, and weed pressure in the field.

As with most new technologies there are new issues to be addressed because insurance companies don’t know how to factor in the liability and the privacy component.

“The whole thing is coming fast and furious,” says this 41-year-old farmer who is the seventh generation of Fritz family farmers who originally moved to Wakeshma Township in the 1840s from Pennsylvania and Ohio. His grandfather, Gordon Fritz, purchased the property on the corner of 38th street and W Avenue in 1952, where the homestead stands today. Ben spotted nice stands of maple trees and knew the land would be fertile.

Today, the far-flung operation feeds 10,000 hogs from farrow to finish, grows commercial crops which include corn, soy beans, hay for haylage for the local dairies, specialty wheat, and seed wheat. This specialty crop has good wheat berries and is sold to a company from England to produce specialty breads. They also grow green beans and non-GMO seed soy beans.

Ben’s father, John, just loved farming and Ben isn’t far behind in his passion for the land.

“Dad used to advise not to get too far ahead of yourself. (He would say) we are just tenants of the land for a short time, take care of the land and take care of it right. And we do!” Fritz adds.   “You’ve got to love the land and improve it all the time.”

Knowing when to take the grain to market isn’t an easy task.

“You almost need a crystal ball to figure out when to sell grain and sometimes the crystal ball has a lot of cracks in it,” says Fritz.

His mantra is just don’t get greedy and settle for a profitable margin.

“It all comes down to fractional figures in Michigan,” he says. “The sun, heat, rain, and fuel costs must all be taken into consideration. We don’t want to be wasteful and we want to keep improving the land all of the time.”

Vicksburg High School National Honor Society

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Vicksburg High School’s National Honor Society’s Induction Ceremony was held April 17, presenting new members. They also presented the seniors with certificates and Honor cords, awards were also given out to the juniors. Seated above left to right are Hanna Ouvry, Kristen Jones, Shannon Scott, Keenan Erb, Gabrielle Perrin and Megan Aldworth. Mrs. Jennifer Teall and Mr. Eric Teall (not pictured), Co-Advisers.

Vicksburg School Board Announces Top 10 for 2014

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Top Ten Vicksburg High School students: front row: Alex Oswalt, co-salutatorian; Leann Mayberry, valedictorian; Danny Kosiba, co-salutatorian. Back row standing from left to right: Tyler Shephard, Jordan Smith, Jadan Norman, Troy Halseth, Matthew Lowes, Hanna Ouvry, and Kathryn Thamann.

Valedictorian Leann Mayberry took top honors, including nine Advanced Placement courses in her grade point average (GPA). Music was her main outside interest as she plays the guitar and was in choir. She plans to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she believes it is warm. She is the daughter of Loren and Susan Mayberry.

Co-salutatorian Alexandria Oswalt was also enrolled in the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC) all four years where she was named a Medallion award winner, one of 10 students chosen for this honor each year. She played on the volleyball and tennis teams all four years and received the YWCA Woman of Achievement Award. She also received the coveted Heyle Scholarship to Kalamazoo College where she plans to study biology. She is the daughter of Mike and Julie Oswalt.

Co-salutatorian Danny Kosiba played basketball, was selected for the National Honor Society, was active in Student Senate and has been active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He plans to attend either Hope College or the University of Michigan. He is the son of Lawrence and Christina Kosiba.

Troy Halseth has been dual enrolled in KVCC, taking advanced placement classes, and plans to continue his studies at the University of Michigan. He is the son of Randall and Jennifer Halseth.

Tyler Shephard had a great ACT score, was in choir, musicals, theater, and went on a mission trip to Romania. She has a choir scholarship to Concordia. She is the daughter of William and Cyndie Shepard.

Kathryn Thamann is captain of the track team and has held an internship at Denny’s veterinarian office. She hopes to enter a veterinary science program to work on small animals. She is the daughter of Thomas and Pamela Thaman.

Jordan Smith participated in theater and marching band, even though she was only in Vicksburg for two years. She volunteers with SPCA where she helps with walking dogs. She plans to attend Calvin College. She is the daughter of Tom and Melissa Smith.

Hanna Ouvry specialized in both academics and athletics. She played volleyball and softball for four years, and was in the Student Senate, Spirit Club, and National Honor Society. She plans to attend Ferris State University to major in pharmacy. She is the daughter of David and Maureen Ouvry.

Jadan Norman has been active in athletics with cross country and track, playing in the band, National Honor Society, taking advanced placement classes in biology and chemistry. He earned his Eagle Scout award by studying osprey nesting habitats in local lakes. He plans to attend Michigan State University to study biological chemistry. He is the son of Perry and Calisa Norman.

Matthew Lowes took Advanced Placement calculus and lots of science classes. He was captain of the lacrosse team and went on a mission trip to Philadelphia to help fix up a house. He will go to Albion College and play lacrosse. He is the son of Mike and Stephanie Lowes.

Other honors garnered by students in the class of 2014 are Jenna Fort, the daughter of Adam and Diane Fort, who received the Principal’s Leadership Award. Emily Barnum, the daughter of Jeffrey and Jill Barnum, won the DAR Good Citizen Award, and Alexandria Oswalt received the YWCA Woman of Achievement Award.

Educators were also honored by the graduates. Alexandria Oswalt chose Cheryl Hach whom she praised for teaching her how to learn and study. Danny Kosiba chose Kim Armitage because she taught him how to work and like biology. Leann Mayberry chose choir director Dustin Morris because choir was a significant part of her high school experience, especially the Superior rating for her solo at the Solo and Ensemble Festival. Troy Halseth chose Scott Willis who is a fun teacher to be around and taught him about succeeding in the workplace.