Consumers learn about apple production by visiting a Kent county farm

Even in a year with few apples on the trees, visitors to the Kent county Breakfast on the Farm event hosted by May Farms received unique insight into how apples are produced and packaged.

Apple packingJim May of Sparta, Mich. is a farmer who believes in showing and telling consumers what farmers do to produce safe, wholesome and nutritious food. This past summer, Jim opened the family’s fifth generation, centennial farm to 1,150 visitors for a Michigan State University Extension program, Breakfast on the Farm. Visitors enjoyed a delicious breakfast and self-guided tour of the apple and crop farm located on “Fruit Ridge” in western Michigan. The tour also included educational stops at Jack Brown Produce , the neighboring state-of-the-art apple packing facility and cooperative that packs, ships and exports Michigan grown apples.

The event was unique as it was the first Breakfast on the Farm to feature specialty and field crops instead of livestock. It was also unique because spring weather devastated the apple crop that was to be featured. Even though the trees in the orchard were bare, visitors learned about apple production on the farm and what it takes to get the fruit to the market. The educational stations were unique as well and included weather, pollination, the uniqueness of the region, corn, soybeans, forages and Integrated Pest Management.

A key Breakfast on the Farm message is that farmers take care of the environment. This was evident on the May farm. The farm is verified under the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program which means that the family has voluntarily implemented environmentally sound practices to prevent or minimize agriculture pollution risks.

After breakfast, the first stop was in a newly constructed chemical storage, mixing and loading facility. The building was designed with a secondary containment and a sump system which allows the grower to recover and reuse spills and rinse water. This prevents chemicals from contaminating surface and groundwater. In addition, visitors saw first-hand the environmental safeguards that are in place to contain fuel and fertilizer in the event of a spill or release.

About 40 percent of all Michigan apples are sold ready to eat, so there is great care taken to get the fruit to the consumer. At Jack Brown Produce, apples are stored in a highly efficient controlled atmosphere storage facility so they maintain their flavor and quality. Before packaging, the apples receive initial inspection then go through the washer, dryer and waxing process before they are air dried and X-rayed where they are further sorted based on size and color. They are now ready to be packaged, shipped to markets and sold to consumers.

After visiting May Farms and Jack Brown Produce, 88 percent of visitors indicated that they will be more likely to purchase Michigan grown products and 87 percent increased their understanding of agriculture as a result of the experience. Stepping onto a modern farm provides great insight into what it takes to produce safe, wholesome, nutritious food and the necessary precautions that farmers take to protect the environment.

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