A Farmers on the Move Tomato Tour
by Shakara Tyler, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
Grape and cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, serrano and jalapeño peppers and late blueberries were in the peak of the season at Jose Luis Vargas’s farm on August 8, 2014 in Bangor, MI. Farmers on the Move, the only cooperative of Hispanic farmers in Michigan that is on a mission to provide locally grown, sustainable produce, hosted a Cultivate Michigan Tomato tour. People from around the state came to the southwest Michigan farm to learn more about the products being grown to provide institutional buyers with fresh, local produce in schools, colleges/universities, hospitals and early childhood and education programs. Representatives from the Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) joined southwest Michigan farmers and local food supporters in harvesting cherry and grape tomatoes and tomatillos while learning about the processes of getting tomatoes from the growing field to institutional buyers committed to putting local food on their menus.
The Michigan Farm to Institution Network (MFIN), led through a partnership of CRFS and the Ecology Center with support from MSU Extension, connects farms and food businesses with local institutions that are interested in sourcing foods grown, raised and/or processed in Michigan. Cultivate Michigan, MFIN’s local food purchasing campaign, helps institutions procure local foods from vendors like Farmers on the Move and track their progress along the way. With a featured food for every season, Cultivate Michigan makes it easy for institutions to purchase, use and serve local foods like tomatoes, the summer featured food of 2014. As Michigan ranks tenth in the country for fresh tomato production and fourth for processing tomatoes, it was a perfect fit!
The cooperative also had an abundance of tomatillos this season, which originate in Mexico and are a staple of Mexican cuisine. Although tomatillos are not yet on the radar of many institutional food buyers, Filiberto Villa Gomez, Board President of Farmers on the Move, seeks institutional market outlets for this unique product. Gomez will deliver as far as 200 miles to sell to interested buyers and currently sells through markets in Detroit, Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, and Chicago. For more information about the cooperative and their products, please visit their website.