As the demand for locally produced foods continues to grow, so too does the number of small local farms producing that food.
Chris DiCicco is the farmer at Sower’s Purse Microfarm. He’s in his second growing season on about a third of an acre on East Napier in Benton Harbor. He said they’re trying to get people more involved in their food.
“What we want to concentrate on, because we’re in a really great location, it’s a beautiful place, we want to concentrate on people coming here because for us it’s about building a local food economy.”
Sower’s Purse runs as a CSA, it stands for community supported agriculture. What it means is DiCicco has members that own a share in the harvest. They get a box from him each week full of whatever is fresh and ripe from the farm.
He also sells produce from his farm directly to anyone who cares to stop by and to local businesses and people he knows. “As we service our members we take extra produce and then we sell to nonmembers and that’s how we kind of made it through the season last year.”
Microfarms aren’t specifically defined by anyone. Generally they’re in urban or suburban areas and use sustainable or organic practices to produce large amounts of food on less than five acres.
Mariel Borgman is a Michigan State University Extension Educator at the Kalamazoo Food Innovation Center. “It could be maybe farming on a city lot. It could be farming on an acre, farming on three acres. When I think of a microfarm, I think of maybe just trying to grow as much food as possible in a small space.”
From the business side, microfarms are able to change more easily than big commodity farms. Ben Hartman is the farmer at Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen. He started with five acres and now farms on less than half an acre because he eliminated waste. “And every year that we’ve shrunk, quote-unquote-‘shrunk’--a side of our business we’ve been more profitable. Because we’re more focused and more of our time is spent on value-adding activities for the customer.”
Hartman works with his customers to figure out what they need, when they need it; then he grows that. He also reduces waste in the system by selling locally. “The average produce item in the grocery store has travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles by the time it reaches the grocery store.”
When produce leaves Clay Bottom it mostly stays in Goshen. One of Hartman’s biggest customers is Maple City Market. A cooperative grocery store less than two miles from his farm.
Josh Yoder is the produce buyer at Maple City. He said roughly thirty percent of the produce at the market is locally grown. “If something’s available locally, and I can trust the quality, I’ll buy it. And I’ll do extra work to be able to carry that product.”
Co-ops are not the only place where microfarmers go to sell their produce. Many sell at farmers markets, or directly to restaurants, as Hartman also does, or they sell directly to consumers.
Emily Anstadt is a food stylist--she makes food look good in advertisement and cookbooks and such. She buys from DiCicco and from other local businesses, both for her work, and just to eat.
She also helps other people that buy from DiCicco figure out how to cook the food he grows. “And it’s fun for me to come up with things and figure out how to cook them and do it in a way that’s kind of simple," Anstadt said. "Then share that with the people on the Facebook page. Because sometimes people don’t know what to do with a delicata squash. They haven’t ever seen one, they don’t know what it tastes like.”
Anstadt took that squash--which is oblong and light yellow with dark green stripes, roasted it with a patty pan squash. That got put on locally made corn tortillas with salsa verde made out of fresh tomatillos and ground cherries, then some goat’s cheese, cilantro, lime, pickled peppers for some super delicious squash tacos.
Industry research group Packaged Facts expects the local food market to approach $20 billion this year, up from $12 billion in 2014. A good chunk of that market is restaurants.
Cheyenne Galbraith is one of the chefs and owners of Houndstooth, a restaurant scheduled to open this month in Benton Harbor. She’s also a Sower’s Purse customer.
She says people want to eat up a story as much as they want to eat up the food.
“Much about what restaurants are now-a-days is really being able to tell a story. So it’s very easy for us to tell a story about where your carrots came from because I know the guy who grew them and they come into our back door and they bring beautiful very fresh, very flavorful produce that’s easy for us to sell.”
Extension Educator Mariel Borgman says as eating local becomes more popular, it shows that people care where their food comes from. “A lot of people want to know who grew their food. They wanna know their farmer.”
Michiana is full of farmers and delicious, local, food.
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