Category Archives: Community

Michigan farmers prepare crops for winter

by Courtney Culey and Kaitlynn Knopp

For Michigan farmers, the next few months determine everything. They determine profits for this year, next year and, more importantly, they determine farmers’ livelihood. And after farmers’ assess their harvests, the impact of the harsh Michigan weather will be discovered.

“The damage is yet to be seen,” Nan Jasinowski, owner of Sweet Seasons Orchard in Concord, Mich., said.

During the summer months, Jasinowski said the trees buds get set for next year. If it’s too hot, the buds get damaged. If it doesn’t rain, some buds won’t form. The amount of buds will determine next year’s production. “We worry about it, but there’s nothing we can do,” she said. “We’re hoping for the best.”

While Jasinowski prays for healthy buds on her 30-acre farm, Randy Dragt, owner of Dragt Farms in Howard City, Mich., prays for a healthy harvest.  During the fall months, Dragt harvests his 1,000-acre farm. He stores some of the crop to feed his animals and sells others for profit. If the weather destroys his fields, his cattle, which makes him thousands of dollars, could go hungry. If the rain dries up his crops, profits decrease and his family could go hungry.

“At this point, there’s not a whole lot farmers can do,” Jim Hilker, a professor of agriculture resource in the economics department at Michigan State University, said. “All that’s left for them to do is to harvest what they get and hope it’s enough.”

So, while Michigan farmers can’t control the weather, they can hope not only for success as the current season finishes, but for changes in the next year.

For the consumers’ sake, Dragt said he hopes next year’s weather is drastically different.

If the weather stays this way, he said crop prices will increase, stores will be forced to raise prices and the consumer will inadvertently suffer.

Jasinowski said she can’t do anything but wait and see how much damage was done.

During the winter months, she will prune her 30-acre farm and package fruits up for cold storage to be sold. Most of her profits are made from July to Thanksgiving, and adding the profits from the cold storage, she should make it through the winter.“Then you get into spring and you hope it doesn’t warm up again like it did this year,” she said.

With the high heat would come damage to crop yields and a decrease in profit. “The hotter it is, the quicker the evaporation and then it all comes back to needing rain again,” Hilker said.




Capitol Lawn Farmers’ Market

by Lauren Hansard

Hundreds of people descended upon the front of the Capitol to support Michigan agriculture on July 19th
Lauren Hansard/ Michigan State University

This wasn’t an ordinary day in downtown Lansing. The lawn of the capitol attracted quite a crowd from vendors selling their products to people stopping by on their lunch break.

This event on the capitol lawn happens twice a year and Governor Rick Snyder was there to show his support.

Governor Rick Snyder said during a press conference, “This Farmer’s Market is a win for all of us and we should be proud of that. Why do I say that it’s a win for all of us?

Governor Rick Snyder during the press conference
Lauren Hansard/ Michigan State University

Because it’s an opportunity to show off how great our state is.”

One of the continuing themes of the day is what a difficult year this has been for farmers.

Phil Hadley, a farmer at Maria’s Garden said, “This year one of the biggest struggles is the heat and making sure all of the plants stay watered. Also making sure the irrigation is working properly because of the immense heat we are starting to lose the plants because of the drought.”

Fresh produce were among the items sold at the market
Lauren Hansard/ Michigan State University

The good news is there was a nice rainfall that morning that put everyone’s mind at ease, at least for a few hours.

The next Farmer’s Market at the Capitol will take place on September 13th.

Coops in the city: owners talk about benefits and possibilites

by Holly Johnson and Natalie Kolb

Lansing residents are taking advantage of the 2010 ordinance allowing them to raise chickens in the city. The ordinance, passed by Ingham County’s Board of Commissioners Animal Control Unit, enables nonagricultural properties in urban areas to keep up to five hens.

Horton Street residents Marilyn Crowley and Bradley Baughman began raising chickens in their backyard shortly after the ordinance was passed because, “it’s extremely important and self-gratifying to raise the food you are putting into your body,” said Baughman. They built their coop out of scrap wood, recycled chain-linked fence and leftover shingles from their house.

“Having chickens is like having any other pet, except they provide us with a delicious protein treat,” Crowley said. “They require a lot of attention, more than a cat or dog, but they are every easy to get used to and caring for them is nearly therapeutic.”

Their chickens, complete with names such as Beyoncé and Roadrunner, roam around their backyard and provide about one to two eggs per day, depending on how good they feel, Crowley said.

Knowing how to care for the chickens has also been a learning process for both Crowley and Baughman. Baughman said that surrounding community members with chickens share insight, such as ways to nurture the chickens, techniques to check their feathers for ticks and fleas, and ways to ensure that their vent, or area where the eggs comes out, is clear for laying.

Lauren Olsen, a Vine Street resident and coop owner, said that although raising hens is far from being more economical than buying a carton of eggs from the store, their absence of growth hormones and pesticides is more than enough reason to raise her own. She also said the difference of taste between yolks is incomparable.

The amount of chicken coops in Lansing has been steadily increasing with Lansing’s Backyard Poultry Group estimating that more than 50 residents have coops of their own.

Local events geared specifically towards chickens, such as a bicycle tour of chicken coops called “Tour de Coop” and monthly poultry swaps, have also emerged in response to the coop’s budding popularity.

“People are starting to care again about what they eat and the quality of their food,” Olsen said. “Just because I don’t live on a farm doesn’t mean I don’t want to know where my food comes from. Having a chicken coop is one step closer to becoming self-sufficient, even in the city.”

Featured: Andy T’s sweet corn farm in St. Johns, MI

by Lauren Hansard

Andy Todosciuk and his father have a word with each other during a break.
Lauren Hansard/ Michigan State University


The younger boys from the crew sitting on the wagon while it turns. They are enjoying a few minutes of rest.
Lauren Hansard/ Michigan State University

The sack filled with sweet corn on the back of the wagon.
Lauren Hansard/ Michigan State University

The sun rising over Andy T’s farm at the start of the picking.
Lauren Hansard/ Michigan State University

Hoop houses expand local food supply at low cost

By Patrick Howard

Consumer demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables appears to have no end in sight.  But experts say the economically viable “hoop house” could assist in meeting those demands.

But it’s not just farmers’ extra 5 to 6 months of crop production and earnings that has given like-minded agriculture experts reason to cheer.  It’s the structures’ sustainability – both in the energy it saves and local food systems it preserves – that has allowed the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC’s) Passive Solar System Loan Fund to succeed.

The MEDC’s Farm to Food Program was established in 2010 and the agency teamed up with the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) and Michigan State University (MSU) to offer financial support to passive solar systems.  “Also known as hoop houses, high tunnels, passive solar greenhouses or unheated greenhouses and other energy efficiency, renewable energy related equipment for agricultural related operations,” read a statement on the MEDC website.

According to Terri Novak, who reviews loan applications for the MEDC, loans must be at least $5,000 but the interest rate is fixed at a low four percent for a maximum of 6 years.

He said traditional agricultural lenders are unfamiliar with hoop houses, possibly confusing them with the more costly, less energy efficient, and permanent traditional greenhouse.

He said that by making use of “cutting edge technologies,” hoop houses are constructed with a metal frame, covered by a ventilated, translucent tarp that make up the walls and roof and created with the intent to grow year round without supplemental heat and light.

A recent MSU study found hoop houses are extremely profitable and don’t pose much risk to lenders.

The study, compiled by the university affiliated CS Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, was conducted on 12 private farms.  What it eventually revealed was passive solar systems’ ability to generate net sales at a fast enough rate, allowing for a positive return on investment.  In fact, it found that the average loan amount used to fund these projects would be repayable in 1-4 years.

It said the popularity of local food has encouraged more “new farmers” and people just trying to get their feet wet in agriculture.  The problem, the study argued, was financial institutions’ unfamiliarity with small scale farming startups that are more likely to be started by beginners rather than experienced farmers.

According to the study, “a nominal number of financial institutions were able to describe beginning farmers beyond the USDA description.

“The future health and vitality of agriculture, the food system, and both urban and rural communities depends on the successful entry of all who want to pursue a farming livelihood,” it said.  “While a growing number of young people and immigrants want to enter farming, they face a myriad of challenges,” including a lack of financing.

Katie Howe, who has worked at the MSU Student Organic Farm in Holt since the beginning of the summer, said she had never heard of hoop houses prior to her employment at the farm.

Now, she’s even helped build one.

Around 30 people – half of them from the MSU group – worked on and completed a hoop house for the Lansing Urban Farm Project at South Hayford Avenue’s Urbandale Farm.

Lansing Urban Farm Project co-founder Linda Anderson said the 30- by 48-foot hoop house was made possible by a $4,000 grant from the city and matching funds from the Ingham County Land Bank.  She said the Land Bank also donated the property.

“It’s just great to see this level of enthusiasm by not just by farming community but city officials too,” Anderson said.

Howe said the Lansing-based hoop house, which took about 10 hours to assemble, is unique because it’s not viewed as a “permanent structure” and doesn’t require a building permit.

“We were informed the land (it was built on) is practically defined as a swamp that permanent structures can’t be built on,” she said.

Farmers markets expand services as demand for local produce grows

By Patrick Howard

A demand for fresh, local produce has boosted a statewide uptick in the number of farmers markets.

And a state grant program aims at ensuring low-income communities don’t miss out on such opportunities.

Katharine Czarnecki, community programs manager at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), the agency that provides the grants, said farmers markets benefit both job creation and health and create social bonds that help communities.

Czarnecki said the agency developed the Farm to Food grant program in 2010 to help three areas: urban development, agricultural infrastructure and a “passive solar system loan fund” used to construct “hoop houses” that can grow vegetables year-round.

The urban development portion of the program provides incentives to so-called entitlement communities – identified by federal law – for projects and educational programs that include low-income and minority residents, Czarnecki said.

Tom Kalchik, assistant director of the Michigan State University Product Center, said the program is particularly beneficial to low-income areas, which he says are often deprived of fresh food sources.

He said both urban and rural areas are often called “food deserts” – a reference to areas where healthy, affordable food can be difficult to find.

Kalchik cited reports by Mintel, a market research firm, indicating a strong consumer trend toward buying local products.  He said the most encouraging part of those reports is that the trend is both long-term and not limited to any particular social class.

“There is a demand for fresh, local products, even with low-income people,” he said.  “I think people want both a better connection to who is providing their food and better health.”

Mary Gerstenberger, consumer horticulture manager for Macomb County’s Michigan State University Extension, said the grant program is encouraging but that farmers markets in several targeted areas already took big steps to increase the ways they serve their communities.

She said the extension program emphasizes building community food systems that connect growers to consumers and farmers markets to local schools and hospitals.

Gerstenberger said people will “go with what they can afford, which is typically local fast-food restaurants,” and that farmers markets are often scarce in low-income areas.

She said the Mount Clemens Farmers Market is at the forefront of customer diversity and seems to truly grasp what community food systems are all about.

According to the Mount Clemens market, it received a grant in 2006, which proved beneficial for the market and its customers.  However, it also noted that the grants are often small and may not cover expenses for many projects it’s required to create.

One incentive in the grant program is EBT (Bridge Card) machines, which would expand the market significantly.  Mount Clemens does not have EBT machines but is interested in acquiring them.

One farmers market that does employ EBT machines is Allen Street Farmers Market in Lansing, which local resident and Bridge Card carrier Emily Bradley said she is relieved about.

“Its nice to be able to buy stuff that is fresh… buy stuff that you know gives back to the local economy,” she said.  “I guess for that reason I feel much better about using it than if I were just shopping at Kroger and Meijer all the time.”

According to Jennifer Holton of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of Human Services is trying harder than ever to integrate EBTs into farmers markets.

Noting the 88 percent increase in farmers markets that accept food stamps from 2010 to 2011, the agency’s expanded effort seems to be working, and data they provided proves it.

Holton said her department is pushing the idea of food hubs to function as a catalyst for farmers markets’ growth.  Food hubs distribute locally grown products to local businesses.

The department also promotes grant programs similar to the MEDC’s and access to food hubs for rural and urban areas.

Jane Whitacre of the Michigan Food Policy Council said a multifaceted farmers market – serving the rich and poor, rural and urban, and expanding services to schools and hospitals – is part of what makes the MEDC’s incentive program so intriguing.

She said the MEDC, while seeking to expand the state economy through traditional business advocacy, understands the importance of local food and how it can bond communities while helping the economy grow.

“All classes of individuals can relate to food,” Whitacre said.  “Ultimately, it has nothing to do with rich or poor and has more to do with lifestyle choices.”

She said as farmers markets around the state develop and expand, fresh local food will be more readily available at affordable prices for both low- and high-income residents.

“There is a powerful local food and grow-your-own kind of movement going on right now like we’ve never seen,” Whitacre said.  “It’s a very exciting time for farmers and consumers everywhere.”






East Lansing Food Co-op keeps it local

by Holly Johnson and Natalie Kolb

East Lansing Food Co-op (ELF-CO) continues to provide the Greater Lansing area with produce from Michigan farms and urban farmers in Lansing. Located at 49600 Northwind Drive in East Lansing, ELF-CO has been providing the area with organic items for over thirty years.

ELF-CO opened as a produce buying club in 1976 and now has over 3,500 members, each with an individual share in the market’s ownership.

“People wanted organic produce in the area and they wanted to know where it came from,” said operations manager Lyndsay Richards. “Each of our members owns an equal share in the co-op and makes up the community that owns the store.”

With produce coming from the Lansing area, including the Hunter Park Garden House on Lansing’s east side, and all over Michigan, Richards said that ELF-CO’s popularity came with its choice to buy local.

Because of the urban farming movement in Lansing, ELF-CO assistant produce manager Blake Tyrrell said the co-op is able to reduce dependence on bigger vendors, especially with tomatoes, because urban farmers are more willing to trade.

“It’s excellent and exciting to see the interest in farming in an urban area expanding so fast and to work with the urban farmers,” he said. “We fully support it.”

In terms of where he gets his food, Lansing resident and urban farmer Benjamin Gluck said he would not have it any other way.

“I shop at ELF-CO because I know people who handle the food and even some of my neighbors grow the food,” he said. “It tastes so much better that way.”

Seniors Find “Home Outside of Home” at Cristo Rey Community Center

Guadalupe Delgado Jr. wanted to relearn Spanish. Refugia Gonzales was lonely and wanted something to do. Both Lansing-area residents ended up in the Senior Program at Cristo Rey Community Center.

According to the Cristo Rey website, the Tri-County Office on Aging began funding the Senior Program in 1977, “to meet the needs of the Spanish Speaking elderly who were unable to access their traditional services because of language, culture, transportation and other barriers.” It says the program provides a senior day center, a meal program, and information and referral, and is the only Hispanic senior program in the Lansing community.

Aside from donations for meals, the program is free to join. Members come on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, but the busiest days are Tuesday and Thursday. Senior Program Coordinator Sally Arias said that of the 40 registered members, around 15-25 generally come on Tuesday and Thursday. Arias added that the majority of the members are women; there are only two or three men in the program.

Delgado started coming to the Senior Program about a year ago, but already knew about Cristo Rey. The community center used to house an elementary school, where Delgado taught third grade.

Spanish was Delgado’s first language, but he said he spoke English during his eight years in the service and had to relearn his native language.

“They force you to speak Spanish,” he joked.

Members come to Cristo Rey to socialize and for a small meal. While they’re there, they visit with one another, watch television, occasionally do a small craft, and play bingo. Arias said there’s a regular group that always comes to play bingo.

“They could play bingo day and night,” she said.

Like Delgado, Gonzales has been coming to the Senior Program for about a year. She said she had never played bingo before, but she’s getting the hang of it.

Though many members play bingo, Arias said two women in their 90s regularly come and choose to socialize or watch television instead.

The group generally meets at the Cristo Rey Community Center in Lansing, but they occasionally take field trips. Arias organized a casino trip for the group in August. She was originally worried that she wouldn’t be able to fill the charter bus she rented, but on the day of the trip, the bus was full and she had more members interested in going. She said the members are already asking when they’re going to take another trip.

“That’s going to have to wait until after the new year,” she said, laughing.

Not all of the members of the Senior Program are associated with migrant farming, but Arias said she thinks some were migrant workers in the past. Arias’ family used to be migrant workers—they would travel to Stockbridge, Mich., to pick cabbage and other vegetables.

For many of the members, the Senior Program at Cristo Rey is a place where they can go and feel comfortable, especially for those who live alone.

Arias and Roberto Quiroga, who also works with the Senior Program, both said that many prefer coming to the community center over staying at home.

“They come to talk with each other,” Quiroga said. “If they stay home, they say, ‘We’re getting crazy!’ because they don’t have too much to do.”

“They kind of consider this their own little home outside of their home,” Arias said. “The 94-year-old [woman], I know a few days she wasn’t feeling good, and I told her, ‘Why don’t you just stay home?’ She said, ‘No, I  don’t want to stay home. I don’t want to be there all by myself.’ So after that, I don’t say anything.”

Delgado said the Senior Program is a comfortable place because many of the members come from the same area.

“Most of these people come from the same state—Texas—and there’s a certain lifestyle in Texas that’s different from California or New Mexico,” he said. “They speak the same thing that I do, and that’s why it feels more like home.”

The Senior Program is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit

By Annie Perry

Final Project Interview

Click here to see our video.

By Jon Coffey & Kelsey Pence

Migrants at Cristo Rey

Twisting in his pew, Jose Hernandez shook hands with the adolescent girl standing behind him.

“La paz de Cristo,” he said.

Hernandez is one of hundreds of people in Greater Lansing who attends Cristo Rey Parish, 201 W. Miller Road in Lansing, at 9 a.m. each Sunday for a Catholic Mass celebrated entirely in Spanish. Overall, the church caters to about 550 families, of which 95 percent are Hispanic, pastor Fred Thelen said. In fact, most of them are originally from Mexico, he said.

“There’s fairly recently arrived immigrants (and) there’s some that have been here,” Thelen said.

The Roman Catholic Church holds a lot of sway in Mexico. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, 76.5 percent of Mexicans are Roman Catholic, compared to only 23.9 percent of U.S. citizens. Churches like Cristo Rey that cater specifically to immigrant and migrant populations therefore have a lot of draw in the community.

Hernandez came to the U.S. in 1973 from a town about 70 miles from Guadalajara, Mexico. To support himself, he spent eight months working on a cherry farm in California. The job was incredibly labor intensive, and Hernandez soon moved to Detroit, and then to Tennessee to work on the line at General Motors. Two years ago, the plant in Tennessee closed and Hernandez came to the Lansing area, where he found Cristo Rey.

Now, he comes to Mass every week. Although he speaks fluent English now, Hernandez said it took him 15 years to learn the language, and he prefers to celebrate his faith in his native tongue.

“I like to be part of my people,” he said. “I like to be in the Spanish Mass.”

Like Hernandez, about a quarter of the people who attend Cristo Rey currently are – or were at one time – migrant farm workers, Thelen said. With such high immigrant and migrant populations, Thelen said Cristo Rey faces many issues not encountered at other parishes. Masses and other services have to be provided in both English and Spanish, and offering help for immigrants who face legal issues is important, he said. He refers parishioners to a lawyer if they ever face deportation issues, but even still, members occasionally are deported.

“It’s wrenching not only for the family, but the whole community – the fear,” he said.

Although Thelen originally is from a German Catholic background, he spent five years as a missionary in Peru. Because of Thelen’s experience, the then-bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing asked him to serve as the pastor at Cristo Rey – a position Thelen has held for the 18 years since.

Only two other parishes in the Diocese of Lansing serve a primarily Hispanic population: Our Lady of Guadalupe in Flint and Sacred Heart Chapel in Jackson. With so few options for Spanish-speakers, Thelen said Cristo Rey has grown since he has been pastor.

“It’s become more and more a part of the community,” he said.

Eloy Lopez is one parishioner who has joined Cristo Rey since Thelen became pastor. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Lopez spent nearly three years in the late 1980s and early 1990s laboring as a migrant farm worker. He picked apples, green peppers, peaches, pears, plums and blueberries in Michigan, and also spent six months picking oranges in Florida.

He moved to Lansing in 1996, and now works as a toolmaker at Diversified Machine Inc. in Howell. All three of his children – ages 22, 17 and 8 – were born in the U.S., and he said he attends Cristo Rey in part to pass down his culture to them.

“I want to teach that to my kids,” he said. “My first language is Spanish, so I prefer (the Mass) in Spanish.”

He said the social aspect of the parish helps him feel connected to his culture and to a community.

“If you come (only) once in a while, you know (the parishioners) very superficially,” he said. “To be part of a church, you know more people.”

By Karen Confer