Warm weather has finally arrived, and that means hundreds of farmers throughout Northwest Michigan are out in the fields planting and tending crops, and getting ready for farmer’s markets and CSA shares.

But this season looks a bit different. Though stress often comes with this line of work, there’s a lot more anxiety and a lot less certainty this year than most. The impact of COVID-19 will be far-reaching and likely to affect growers well after the season is over—physically, socially, and economically.

As you know, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities created the Local Food Relief Fund in response to this issue, raising over $170,000 so that hunger relief organizations like Manna can purchase directly from local farmers to help recover their economic losses. Once Manna received our portion of the funds, it took a few days for us to plan our approach. Would it look different from our produce purchases in years past? What would be this year’s overall budget, including other grants towards produce, and how would we allocate it? Our farming partners had the same questions.

Well, once the entire list of potential farms was in front of us, we decided that we wouldn’t pick and choose: we’d buy from all of them. So this year, Manna plans to work with over 20 different growing partners—some new, many returning friends.

  • Bear Creek Organic Farm (Petoskey)
  • Bill’s Farm Market (Petoskey)
  • Bluestem Farm (East Jordan)
  • Bolt’s Farm (Charlevoix)
  • Coleman Centennial Farm (Kewadin)
  • Coveyou Scenic Farm Market (Petoskey)
  • Dhaseleer Farm (Charlevoix)
  • Fiddlehead Farm (Pellston)
  • Friske Orchards (Ellsworth)
  • Huddleston Farm (Kewadin)
  • Kitchen Farms (Elmira)
  • Mshko’Ode Farm (Brutus)
  • Northbound Farm (Levering)
  • Open Sky Organic Farm (Pellston)
  • Peaceful Valley (Walloon Lake)
  • Providence Organic Farm (Central Lake)
  • Soul Springs Permaculture (Harbor Springs)
  • Spirit of Walloon Market Garden (Boyne City)
  • UnderToe Farm (Kewadin)
  • Wild Blue Yonder (Bellaire)
  • Ziibimijwang Farm (Pellston)

I have had the privilege of meeting and working with many of these folks: Adam and Haley from UnderToe, Andre from Peaceful Valley, Chelsea and Nick from Huddleston, and a good number more. All are bright, kind, and down-to-earth, and it’s obvious that they care deeply about their little corner of the world, wherever it may be.

In my conversations, I’ve learned a lot about each farm family: how many kids they have, that they already donate to a local food pantry, that they’ve just started a small co-op. I’ve also learned that several of these farms are “green,” or just starting out. I’m excited for them and that, through this long-term partnership, we can help make their journey successful.

The first purchase using dollars from the Local Food Relief Fund was about 20 pounds of beautiful romaine from Open Sky Organic Farm. Susan, who owns the farm with her partner, Sam, also dropped off two bags full of storage onions as a donation.

This part of the equation, finding a home for surplus produce, is what I love telling new partners about. From all the feedback I’ve received, wasted produce occurs no matter how closely you adjust your sowing, and often farmers just don’t have an outlet for the excess. So we’ll get a call: “I have cucumbers coming out my ears!” or “If you can glean ‘em, take ‘em!”

And then we determine what works best for each farm. Could we assemble a group of volunteers to harvest the field? Could we buy the product at a wholesale price? Could we pay a farm’s workers their wages in exchange for all the cukes? At the end of the day, the biggest relief is that the food goes to fill bellies, not bins.

This is just one of the many ways Manna has the ability to make sure both sides – farmers and hungry clients – have their needs met.

Jessyca Stoepker | May 21, 2020