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.