Sweet and spicy Michigan peppers are a highly nutritious and versatile vegetable for individuals and institutional food service staff alike. They boast high nutritional value, an abundance of varieties and uses, and summertime availability. A recent Cultivate Michigan pepper field trip for institutional food service directors, led by three Michigan State University Extension vegetable and food systems educators, hosted participants representing hospitals, food banks, food hubs, farmer’s markets, senior centers and school districts. This pepper tour highlighted on-farm production, retail and wholesale marketing and distribution, and included a farm market, pepper production fields, packing lines and cold storage areas. Michigan farmers commit 2,200 acres to pepper production, with over half of the nearly 1500 farms producing sweet bell peppers in a range of colors. Second only to bell peppers, Michigan farmers also grow large quantities of sweet banana and spicy hot peppers, the majority of which go into processing.
This tour was hosted by the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, and its institutional purchasing campaign Cultivate Michigan, which is co-coordinated by Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the Ecology Center and is supported by Michigan State University Extension. Goals for the Cultivate Michigan pepper tour included learning first-hand about pepper production and distribution; connecting institutional buyers with local farmers and distributors, and providing networking opportunities for Farm to Institution stakeholders. Farmers fielded many questions from the institutional representatives about their growing practices and experiences with institutional clients and markets.