The West Michigan Growers Group continues to expand work following this winter’s strategic planning
The WMGG has made strides in their goal to nurture local farmer relations after a winter strategic planning session.
The West Michigan Growers Group (WMGG) was started by Rachelle Bostwick of Earthkeeper Farm in order to create relationships amongst the region’s small, sustainable farms. Bostwick decided to start the WMGG after returning home to west Michigan to start farming with her husband. It was during this transition back home that she noticed a lack of community among growers in the area. Bostwick had previously been a member of a close-nit farming community in the Hudson Valley of New York, so she took it upon herself to bring the local west Michigan farming community together.
What started as organized monthly potlucks and farm tours with just a few farmers, soon evolved into the Growers Group. To date, the group has continued in its capacity for providing informal education around the monthly potlucks and farm tours. In early 2014 a number of farmers involved in the group were looking for ways to expand the marketing reach of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. This catalyzed a change in the future of the WMGG.
Up to that point, Bostwick had been volunteering her time to organize the monthly meetings and maintain a list of over 100 local farms, farmers, and local food supporters who received the monthly newsletter. The idea of developing a collaborative CSA marketing initiative led to the group partnering with Michigan State University Extension and Local First of West Michigan on a 2014 USDA Farm Market Promotion Program grant proposal, which awarded the group over $90,000. The majority of this funding was focused on developing a marketing campaign for CSAs, however a portion was set aside to assist the WMGG in developing future goals and plans through strategic planning. Grant partners identified Michigan Food and Farming Systems as their choice to facilitate the strategic planning, which took place during two, four-hour sessions in November and December 2015. During these sessions grower members worked with facilitators to develop the key priority areas, a mission statement, and the goals for the group’s future work.
The mission statement “Bringing farmers together so that they and their farms flourish in a sustainable local food system,” shows that the group’s top priority is to support farmers. However, the last line regarding a sustainable local food system demonstrates their understanding of being only one component of a larger system. In order for their farms to truly flourish, the WMGG must work with others to build capacity for the entire local food system.
At the end of the second strategic planning session, two committees were formed to continue the group’s momentum; a structure committee charged with developing recommendations for how the group should be structured and an education committee, for developing a schedule of educational opportunities for the group’s members. Overall, the strategic planning sessions assisted the West Michigan Growers Group in working towards their main goal of strengthening the relations of local agriculturalists and giving their farms the ability to flourish.
Michigan State University Extension has Community Food System Educators around the state working with small growers to help them create viable plans for the future of their farms and families. For more information on their work, visit the Community Food System Work Team web page or contact an educator in your area.