Thursday, July 31 marked Cultivate Michigan’s first product promotion tour, which highlighted blueberries, the featured food for summer 2014.
The tour took place at Barbara Norman’s Farm in Covert, Michigan, and True Blue Farms Processing Plant in Grand Junction, Michigan. Barbara Norman, farmer and owner of Barbara's Blueberry Patch, said, "Currently we are selling fresh/frozen to Detroit Public Schools, Covert Public Schools and restaurants in Chicago." In addition, Shelly Hartmann, owner of True Blue Farms Processing Plant explained that she and her husband have been working to grow their business for more than 25 years and says, "We have a unique relationship with South Haven Public Schools and the community hospital.” This type of local connection is sometimes more difficult to find in today’s corporate world but the goal of Cultivate Michigan is to make this much more common.
Among the attendees were individuals from value-added businesses, two regional/ specialty food distributors, and MSU Extension. Additionally, various long-term care and nutrition professionals as well as good food advocates joined the tour. Christine Quane, Wholesale Market Coordinator at Eastern Market, was one such attendee and explained, “I attended the tour because there’s a market specifically for Michigan crops. Institutions are looking for them and it’s almost impossible to find a processor that specialized in Michigan grown.” In addition, Shelly Hartmann mentioned how Michigan blueberries were all about flavor and that it’s almost impossible to find that taste anywhere else; the tour attendees, all in unison, agreed.
The tour started at Barbara Norman’s blueberry farm, where visitors had the unique opportunity to see how Michigan high bush blueberries are grown on a fifty-three acre, six generation family-owned blueberry farm. During the twenty-five minute drive to True Blue Farms Processing Plant, a round table discussion was held to explore current production, distribution and existing barriers to supplying and sourcing blueberries for farm to institution. At the plant, attendees were able to gain insight as to how extensive this particular processing plant is in regards to their procedures to assure it maintains it’s “superior” rating by the American Institute of Bakers (AIB).
At the conclusion of the tour, Hillary Bisnett, Program Director at the Ecology Center and co-lead/host of the tour proclaimed that, “We were happy to partner with True Blue’s Shelly Hartmann and Barbara Norman to offer this learning opportunity to further strengthen connections among growers, suppliers and buyers of Michigan blueberries.” Overall, the first tour was a great success and we look forward to hosting future events at locations all across Michigan!