A “Walk through Michigan” can teach about agriculture and natural resources

For twenty-two consecutive years a journey around the State of Michigan has helped students and adults to learn about our state’s agriculture and natural resources.

A “Walk through Michigan” has been a part of the Washtenaw County Project RED (Rural Education Days) and was originally designed by the late Joseph W. Ames, former Washtenaw County Agricultural Extension Educator. Over the years the walk has been adapted to fit the schedule at various agriculture education programs. Today, Washtenaw County 4-H and FFA members work with Jackie Martin, 4-H Extension Educator, to present their version of a walk through Michigan agriculture and natural resources.

The 4-H and FFA teens share facts on agricultural products produced in various areas of Michigan as they move around the outline of the state of Michigan. The outline is made of flour and hundreds of Michigan agriculture and natural resource products and props are placed in the area of the state where they are produced. The presentation begins with some generic facts such that Michigan is second to California in the number of agricultural crops produced. The teens then stand in their area of the state and encourage interaction from the audience to interact during the presentation.

The speaker in the Upper Peninsula shares that some people think the Upper Peninsula is all trees, rivers, swamps and lakes. Michigan is home to abundant woodlands which provide wildlife habitat and create jobs for people working in the lumber and paper industries. Michigan also has cattle and dairy farms, an increasing number of vegetable farms and commercial fisherman who catch whitefish from the Great Lakes. Some of this food is used to feed people who live up north. Some of it is sent to southern counties like Washtenaw and beyond. One of our most popular agricultural products is made from the sap of maple trees. It’s sweet, and people usually eat it by spreading it on pancakes. The speaker then asks the audience if they know what that product is.

The next speaker announces the next stop is northern Lower Michigan where you’ll find woodlots, pastures, potatoes and livestock. Our agricultural production is similar to production in the Upper Peninsula but our weather is just a little warmer. We also harvest wind by using windmills to make electricity. During the late fall months, Northern Michigan tree farmers are busy harvesting evergreen trees for a very popular holiday. Raise your hand if you’ve seen fresh cut Christmas Trees around December 1? There’s a good chance those come from Northern Michigan.

On our farms we also produce a crop that is world famous. It’s a type of fruit. It’s small, round and red. This fruit grows on trees. People make pies with this fruit. Do you know what this fruit is? In our region we have almost four million tart cherry trees. We produce more than half of all the tart cherries grown in the U.S.

Then it is on to the thumb of Michigan, as the presenter shares that Michigan’s thumb has lots of flat ground and wide open spaces making crop farming ideal here. Thumb farmers grow alfalfa, soybeans, wheat, corn, as well as some unique products including sugar beets and dry beans. Sugarbeets are processed and turned into sugar that we use in our homes every day. In fact, the Michigan Sugar company which produces Pioneer Sugar is located in the thumb! Michigan is the number two producer of dry beans in the U.S. and the farms in the thumb are a big part of our dry bean production. Michigan produces navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and more. There are also many dairy cows in the thumb.

The next stop is Western Michigan as the speaker welcomes everyone to that area. Around Grand Rapids our farms look more like your farms in Washtenaw County. Our soils tend to be a little sandier. We also have a lot of muck soils which are dark black in color and very good for vegetable production. We raise grains and livestock. You’ll see beef cows, dairy farms, pigs and poultry when you drive through our region. We are fortunate to have Lake Michigan off to our west. The big lake slows the arrival of warm weather in the spring, and delays the arrival of winter. This longer growing season allows us to produce specialty crops that do not grow well in other parts of the state, including flowers and fruit. One of our favorite fruit crops grows on trees. The fruit is orange in color, round and has a fuzzy peel. Do you know what fruit this is? How many of you like to put ice cream on peaches for a summer-time dessert?

Then we end our trip by visiting southeast Michigan. This area is special because it’s home. In addition to producing grain crops like corn, soybeans and wheat we also produce a little bit of everything mentioned in the other parts of Michigan, plus mushrooms. In southeast Michigan fruits, vegetables, grain and livestock can be found on our farms. Because we have both big cities and a lot of farmland, Southeast Michigan is a region where a lot of agricultural crops are made into the types of food products you see in the store. We are known for the large number of bakeries. We also turn potatoes into potato chips, vegetables like cucumbers into pickles and milk into ice cream.

This is a fun and very visual way to educate others about agriculture production and natural resources. The students and adults always enjoy and learn from it. When setting up this type of educational presentation you can be very creative and showcase a variety of products and information. Michigan farms produce so many wonderful treasures.