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Agro-Tourism Rises to Challenges

Andrew Schudlich, Economy, farm-to-table, Farmers Markets, Guest Post, Record-Eagle Ag Forum, Stories

Walk through any Leelanau County or Traverse City farmers market and it’s hard to miss how much things have grown. For the past 15 years, these markets and farm stands have been the source of produce and locally produced products for our business, Epicure Catering & Cherry Basket Farm.

Andrew-SchudlichIn 2003, the food systems that serviced northwest Lower Michigan had some work to do. There were farm stands and markets, but the goods had a limited route to the people. Moreover, accessibility of product to the public was a problem.

Epicure Catering started with a mission to use as much local produce and talent as possible. We shopped the farm stands and farm markets. We already knew many local farm families and had solid sources, but that was not enough. Without a system of distribution for these fine products, we spent the first three days of each week in a food rodeo trying to round up all the supplies we would need for a weekend event.

This rodeo took place every week through the catering and growing season (June-October). We intimately learned the origins of our products. With increased market interest in farm to table foods, our local agro-tourism industry was growing. Similarly, so were the local farm markets through the organization and efforts of Leelanau Farmers Market Association, Taste the Local Difference and the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority. We now have farm markets five days a week in seven locations.

The ability to shop for food from up to 20 different farms with one stop is priceless. We no longer have a weekly food rodeo. Orders can be placed by text or email, and can be picked up with just a single stop. Shopping for any extraneous or showpiece produce is easy when you’re surrounded by local farms and their wares. The diversity and quality of the products being grown and produced locally have pushed our region into the limelight of this agro-tourism industry.

Our food business and many others are growing to meet these changes — but it starts with agriculture. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines agriculture this way: “The science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock, and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing the resulting products.”

With substantial agricultural development in place — and food systems developing on par — our local agro-tourism industry should enjoy a healthy future.

So here’s to the farmers, artists, scientists, cheese makers, florists, bakers, fisherman, apiarists, chandlers, vintners, ranchers and shepherds. And to the LFMA, TLD and DDA. Here’s to you and all your efforts. Thanks for making shopping local so accessible. We look forward to next season.

Epicure Catering & Cherry Basket Farm, 5530 NW Bayshore Dr, Omena, MI 49674

Andrew Schudlich is chef and co-owner of Epicure Catering, which operates its event business, www.caterleelanau.com, out of Cherry Basket Farm. He lives in Northport.

This piece was originally printed in the Traverse City Record Eagle newspaper. Find the digital version here.

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