Michigan winters, particularly those here in the UP region, don’t allow for much production. Even those individuals who have been able to bridge the gap with season extension find themselves unable to do much in the blistering months of January and February. So, what are our local farmers up to at times like these? Catching up on the Netflix binging they missed? Creating sleep patterns that almost replicate those of hibernation? Read books by the fire, hot chocolate in hand?
I like to hope that our hard-working farmers are indulging in a few of these things in the slow season, but the truth is that the work never ends. If they want to have a bountiful harvest this upcoming year, there are a lot of factors to consider. Landen Tetil, owner of Bean Pole Farm, and recent ‘graduate’ of the Apprentice Farmer Program at the MSU North Farm, tells me a little about how she stays busy by planning.
Her production planning consists of two main components: creating field maps that show the number of beds dedicated to each crop, and creating a seeding calendar, marking the sowing, transplanting, and harvesting dates for each of her varieties. During this time, she also budgets and plans for any other farm-related expenses like row cover, packaging materials, and market fees.
She’s not just planting whatever feels right either, she does some intensive research asking the public and her current CSA members what they want out of their CSA experience. Each year she reassesses what her members and potential members want to see, and then buys seeds based the results, sticking to reliable stand-by varieties, and always trying some new ones as well.
Farmers are not the only ones planning ahead. Sarah Goodman, the Produce Manager at the Marquette Food Co-op tells me about the planning process she is in with the current seven Upper Peninsula farms that provide produce to their store.
First, she says, they are looking for top sellers and things that grow well in the area, after that they look at how to plan ahead to meet the volume and quality needs of their customers. They use previous sales reports to analyze pars sold in order periods and compare that with what time items come into season here in the UP, subsequently looking at the local purveyors individually to see if they produce this item and if it fits the quality their customers expect.
One of the big benefits to the store is that they are able to of course, buy more local product. This process also gives the farmers the ability to receive some feedback on their harvest, plan ahead for the upcoming year, and learn more about the expectations of the consumer.
As for myself, I had the honor of being able to attend the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference this past weekend, allowing me a front row seat in the planning and educational process farmers go through every year. The passion in class presentations and discussion was evident. So, a big thank you to our Michigan Farmers, for withstanding the intense climate of our region, and please take a moment to rest, because planting season is right around the corner.
Alexandria Palzewicz is the UP Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. She has been doing some winter planning of her own, including some delicious local food dinners in the Menominee County area this spring. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org