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Demystifying NE Michigan Food & Farming Entrepreneurship

The Northeast Michigan Council of Governments (NEMCOG) has been instrumental in facilitating Taste the Local Difference’s growth in NE Michigan over the last three years. This has ultimately resulted in not only building higher demand for local food in the region, but in people realizing the true potential of Sunrise Side ingenuity and innovation. This entrepreneurship is a key factor for the survival of small-scale farming and healthy local food systems in an ever-changing and increasingly complex global economy. 

Successful farmer & food system-entrepreneurs are competent, innovative, often daring, and prepared so they can steer their businesses through establishment and survival to rapid growth and maturity. However, there are many challenges that these small business owners face, some unique to northern Michigan: social barriers, economic barriers, an incredibly short growing & tourist season, access to finance and capital, and their own managerial capacity to cope with risks and changes. 

Through a NEMCOG mini-grant initiative, TLD partnered with Zach Irving Entertainment to complete a 3-5 minute video on how NE Michigan food and farming entrepreneurs have transformed their love for food, farming, and sustainability into tools to build a stronger and more equitable food system.

Here’s a Sneak Peek:

Katherine and Zach Wilbur purchased land in Rogers City a couple of years ago to create New Sun Farm; they manage the North’s seasonality with their other business, Woodland Confectionary, that utilizes their less than perfect fruit for chocolates and other confections in the off-season. (You can order locally made and sourced candies online for all your holidays and special occasions – I can personally recommend the Easter candy!) 

Knaebe’s Apple Farm’s Dana Hefele talks in-depth in the video about how they’ve transformed a generational family business into a northern Michigan hub for not just freshly made donuts and soft cider, but wood-fired pizzas and hard cider that people travel statewide to experience. (Try the Farmhouse Funk cider and the Bellisimo white pizza when you visit!) You can listen in as Presque Isle Farm’s Dion Stepanski chats about what it takes to make it work as a small-farmer in NE Michigan, including showing a remarkable ability to adapt, going all in, finding better ways to organize your farm to increase productivity, diversify production, reduce risk and increase profits. In the video, you will also get a unique perspective from Hungry Hippie’s owner Greg Konwinski and Chef Kevin Peterson (that will soon open his own Red Brick Tap and Barrel in Alpena) on how to utilize the resources available in this area, and cross-training employees for multiple businesses. 

The rough cut will be out this month, and we hope to release this phenomenal learning tool and showcase of NE Michigan’s fabulousness by October. Stay tuned to TLD’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for the release! 

Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for northeast Michigan. She enjoys reading with her six year old, planting and hiking in the dirt, cooking up her own recipes, drinking farmhouse cider, and eating lots of fresh, seasonal produce (and anything deep-fried, in accordance with her southern heritage). She owns and operates Presque Isle Farm with her family and is a founding member of the Huron Shores Local Food Coalition. Contact her at molly@localdifference.org

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