Mary Brower: The Manna Food Project

Mary Brower, Bluestem Farm & MFIN Advisory Committee

MSU Center for Reional Food Systems · Mary Bower of Bluestem Farm & MFIN Advisory Committee  


My name is Mary Brower and I'm an organic farmer up in East Jordan, Michigan. I'd like to share a story today about an innovative partnership that I'm proud of.

The main business model for my farm is CSA memberships, and what that means is that people pay us ahead of the growing season to grow the food that they’ll get each week. Something about farming, even in 2019, continues to involve tons of risk that no human being can control. We can try to mitigate it, but we can't control it. So, last night, we got some freezing weather, and some of the food that people were expecting to eat this week is going to be frozen today. So, I was out in the field, harvesting herbs by the light of the truck headlights. That's possible to do on a certain scale but not on others.

The partnership that I wanted to tell you about is with the local food bank. Manna Food Project operates out of Harbor Springs, Michigan and the director, Kim Baker, has done a lot to support local farms in his sourcing of food for the food bank. So, he went and sought donations in advance of the growing season, I believe they cut us a check for a couple thousand dollars in February this year. We talked about what he thought they might need and what we thought we are good at growing and came up with a general plan about what we were going to produce for the Manna Food Project. Sometimes that changed based on their need and our production, but we flexed with each other and I think everybody was really happy about the arrangement.

A reason why I bring up this partnership as an example of something that I really think works is because farmers are by-and-large members of the working poor themselves, and they’re subject to the type of risk that a lot of people in the modern world don't have in day-to-day business operations. So, when an organization like Manna Food Project provides us with working capital in front of the season, that’s something that we really need, and also a plan so that we can plant the amount of seeds and plants that we need to and make a plan for the gardens, so that everything fits together so that we can sell everything that we grow.

All of that is a really important way that the Manna Food Project helped to source food from local farmers, while supporting our business model in the meanwhile. So, if you know of any food pantries, hospitals, schools, or other large organizations who are looking for ways to support local farmers, contracting with farmers in advance of the season is a really great way to go.