Farm events connect specialty-crop producers with the community

Michigan specialty crop producers have found that event-based activities create effective community support and grower mentoring within the local food system.

We think might think of community-supported agriculture as being a system of purchasing shares of produce to be delivered or picked up at a future time. Emerging specialty-crop farm operators are taking a hands-on approach to expanding our understanding of community through farm-based events.

Bonnie Steinman of Hop Head Farms first involved the public in a 2012 planting day at their Barry County operation said, “It was a tool to get the public excited about our farm, being a start-up. It gives the community a special connection to us when they are a part of the beginnings of such a big project.”

At 3 North Vines, husband and wife owners Nate Shopbell and Kristi Nichols-Shopbell, hold volunteer events twice yearly in Sanilac County for those interested in their wine grape vineyard and winery start-up. “Family and friends feel like they are part of something,” Nichols-Shopbell said. “We have trained them through bud removal and harvest days. They don’t do things like operate heavy machinery. They share our vision and we reward them with wine education, hayrides and food.”

The public exposure helps build capacity in emerging industries such as hop production and processing in Michigan. “This year’s focus for inviting volunteers was to funnel all of the curious minds and beginning hop growers that we don’t have the time to talk with individually into a few days of hands-on experience. I called it ‘Volunteer and Learn’,” Steinman said. “We have many brewers come out to help and show their staff where the hops come from. We have had neighbors come that are just interested in finding out more of what is happening in their backyards. We have home brewers and beer clubs. I like to think of the volunteer days as community building.”

Marty Moga of Calhoun County’s new High Five Hops Farm is pictured at Hop Head Farms’ 2012 spring planting event.
Marty Moga of Calhoun County’s new High Five Hops Farm is pictured at Hop Head Farms’ 2012 spring planting event.

Michigan State University Extension and Product Center field-based staff counsel on agriculture, natural resources, or bio-products business development. To request counseling, visit www.productcenter.msu.edu, or call 517-432-8750.

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