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Michigan Fresh has even more to offer

In a March 27 Spotlight, I mentioned how our Michigan State University Extension Michigan Fresh program educates on fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals as well as food safety, food storage, food preservation and gardening. In addition to this long list of important subjects, the Michigan Fresh work team is also busy on many other projects.

Extension educator Eileen Haraminac took over the coordination of the Michigan Fresh team upon Kathe Hale’s retirement.

Extension educator Joyce McGarry is busy heading up new fact sheet development. The team consists of Mary Dunckel, Michelle Jarvie, Ronald E. Kinnunen, Amanda Knox, Laurie Messing, Jeannie Nichols, Jeannine Schweihofer and Rob Weber. Team members arecompiling information on meats: pork, lamb, poultry, beef and fish. In the future, they will compile information for fact sheets on dairy products. Michigan Fresh fact sheets have been available at many of the farmers markets throughout the state as well as online. The fact sheets are also available in Arabic and Spanish. Find them on the Michigan Fresh website: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/mi_fresh

Other future fact sheets will focus on Michigan chestnuts (Erin Lizotte, Extension educator in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute) and growing hops (Greening Michigan Institute Extension educator Rob Sirrine).

Extension program instructor Stephanie Bruno heads up the team that’s developing recipe cards. The team consists of Jennifer Berkey, Becky Henne and Connie Kurple. These new recipe cards will be distributed at several farmers markets to encourage consumers to purchase Michigan-grown food to use as simple ingredients.

 Kristine Hahn and Eileen Haraminac as well as Sean Corp and other MSU Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications staff are collaborating with the Eastern Market Corporation to promote a new product ‒ Michigan Fresh Frozen fruits and vegetables. The group is working on recipe cards to be distributed at Detroit Eastern Market and through the Peaches & Greens mobile produce trucks. The cards will promote both the Michigan Fresh program and the new Eastern Market Corporation Michigan Fresh Frozen products.

Eileen said, “We want to encourage people to choose nutrient-packed frozen fruits and vegetables when fresh are unavailable. Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing are processed at their peak ripeness ‒ time when, as a general rule, they are most nutrient packed.

Extension associate program leader Becky Henne heads up the social media team. Team members are busy working to build a smartphone app and to develop additional videos. They hope to have the app ready to roll out for the 2015 season. This group is working with Dr. Dru Montri, executive director of Michigan Farmers Market Association; Colleen Matts, farm to institution outreach specialist with the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems; and Dr. Norm Lownds, curator of the 4-H Children’s Garden. Additional team members from both the Health and Nutrition Institute and the Greening Michigan Institute include Julie Darnton, Joanne Davidhizar, Dawn Earnesty, Kristine Hahn, Sheilah Hebert, Maggie Kantola and Kendra Wills.

Dr. Cheryl Peters, Maggie Kantola and Kendra Wills have been working with the Michigan Fresh team to develop a common evaluation tool for Michigan Fresh cooking demonstrations offered at the Detroit Eastern Market and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. These cooking demonstrations benefit the promotion of the Michigan Fresh fact sheets and videos. The free, public demonstrations are designed to inspire people to purchase and consume more Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables. The evaluation tool will gather information from cooking demonstration observers. Recipes used in the cooking demonstrations come from the Michigan Fresh fact sheets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With coordination from Extension educator Terry McLean, MSU Extension will staff a kiosk at the Flint Farmers Market this spring.

Michigan Fresh is a great collaboration not only between our own institutes but between local organizations and farmers markets as well.

If you are interested in promoting the Michigan Fresh campaign materials at your community farmers market, please contact Eileen Haraminac (haramin2@anr.msu.edu) for more information.

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What’s new with Michigan Fresh?

Can Michigan Fresh get any fresher? Apparently so. The Michigan State University Extension program that helps people explore the state’s fresh locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals has updated its website with a fresh new look.

The program, which involves MSU Extension staff members collaborating across institutes, launched May 1, 2012. Back then, we offered three Michigan Fresh fact sheets – on asparagus, rhubarb and starting seeds. Today, we offer nine fact sheets on fruit, 31 on vegetables, nine on general gardening tips and three on food preservation. In addition, we’ve produced five fact sheets in Spanish. Extension educators write the facts sheets designed by Alicia Burnell, Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications graphics artist.

We’ve been promoting the fact sheets and the Michigan Fresh program at the Detroit Eastern Market, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market and across Michigan.

We have a new Michigan Fresh flier that explains the program and lists the fact sheets available. It gives some interesting facts about our great state. For example, did you know that Michigan is the leading producer of dry beans and several varieties of annual flowers including geraniums, petunias and Easter lilies? And we’re No. 1 in the nation in production of blueberries, cucumbers for pickles, Niagara grapes and tart cherries. Check out the flier for more Michigan facts as related to food and agriculture.

The Michigan Availability Guide lets us know when to buy fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables.

So fresh we’re still working on putting it up on the Michigan Fresh website, a new Michigan Fresh fact sheet gives fresh produce donation guidelines for gardeners. Authors and Extension educators Kathe Hale of the Greening Michigan Institute and Eileen Haraminac of the Health and Nutrition Institute let us know helpful tips for donating that extra zucchini to food banks and pantries.

In addition, Steve Evans, ANR Communications multimedia production team leader, produced all of the Michigan Fresh videos starring MSU Extension educators and program instructors. Watch them for some great recipes and tips on cooking Michigan produce. In this week’s featured video, Extension nutrition program instructor Maggie Kantola focuses on kale.

Kathe Hale coordinates the Michigan Fresh program. Visit the updated Michigan Fresh website at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/mi_fresh.

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A look at our future

At a new staff orientation that took place on January 30, I had a chance to meet some great new colleagues. During my comments to the participants, I tried to convey what I think makes Michigan State University Extension professionals special people. The curiosity to gather all the information you can before offering advice, the innate response to teach and facilitate in any setting and with any resources, and the drive, the insistence to make a difference in the lives of others – all of these are what I see as defining an effective Extension professional. I told them that I consider myself extremely fortunate to get to work with a group of colleagues who fit that description.

Then I went to lunch and got a dose of what makes Extension professionals special in our discussion around the lunch table. I heard some fascinating life stories, and I want to share some of those in MSUE Spotlight over time because they are instructive and inspiring for me and I think they may be for you as well.

The first story I want to share is from Margaret (Maggie) Kantola. Maggie joined MSUE in August 2012 and works as a nutrition program instructor in our Nutrition and Physical Activity work group, based in Detroit. When Maggie moved to Detroit earlier last year, she rented an apartment. The landlord asked her if she had any ideas about what to do with a 1/4-acre parcel of land next to the apartment building. Maggie asked if the landlord minded if she made money from the land and he said it was fine.

In short order, Maggie converted the vacant lot into a beautiful market garden called CommonHarvest and produced a bounty.

Vacant lot in Detroit, spring 2012, will become CommonHarvest.

Vacant lot in Detroit, spring 2012, will become CommonHarvest.
Photo credit: Margaret Kantola.

In her words, “We sold the variety of produce at Eastern Market at the Grown in Detroit table in addition to some wholesale to local restaurants. And of course we had plenty of fresh food all season long and froze, canned and dried plenty of the vegetables that we are now enjoying during these winter months.”

I was impressed by the story and impressed even more by the photos she shared with me after our luncheon discussion. I share them with you here.

Soil prepared for planting in the CommonHarvest lot.

Soil prepared for planting in the CommonHarvest lot.
Photo credit: Margaret Kantola.

I shared Maggie’s story in a presentation I gave two weeks ago at the Agricultural Outlook Forum 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. The forum is an event hosted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack each year. I was invited to speak about the work of Cooperative Extension in fostering the development of local food systems – growing, distributing, processing and marketing food for consumers who live near the producers. Much of the media attention has focused on food systems developing in urban communities. Our MSUE Community Food Systems work group is working in urban and rural communities, and they provided valuable stories for me to share in my presentation.

Janelle Palmer plants crops in the CommonHarvest lot.

Janelle Palmer plants crops in the CommonHarvest lot.
Photo credit: Margaret Kantola.

I began my presentation with Maggie’s story as a way to convey what I see as the key driver behind the success of local food systems. I explained that this garden was something that Maggie did on her own, not as part of her responsibilities in MSUE. She was entrepreneurial in her approach, had technical knowledge that she could apply, and used her skills and knowledge to improve her community, and to improve her life and the lives of others. She made a difference in the lives of others.

CommonHarvest shows steady growth.

CommonHarvest shows steady growth.
Photo credit: Margaret Kantola.

That energy – whether it comes from Extension professionals or others – is making new neighborhoods, new economic activity and new ways of living in our urban communities. If you go to a meeting of people involved in local food systems, if you shop at a farmers market, if you hang around Extension professionals like Maggie, you can feel the energy and take hope from the fact that THIS is what is helping to create our cities of the future. Creating the parts of new food systems won’t solve all of our challenges in urban and rural communities across Michigan. But it sure will help move us in a productive direction.

Urban garden nears harvest.

Urban garden nears harvest.
Photo credit: Margaret Kantola.

It’s easy to show photos of urban decay and ring our hands. It’s easy to read stories of urban violence and run away. It’s easy to read about government financial distress and give up. In the midst of that, the human spirit needs to grow something, and Maggie showed me how simple that can be and how much it can change perspectives on vacant lots, stressed social interactions and hopeless financial circumstances. I don’t know the answers to those challenges, but I’m willing to bet that the work of young and old in constructive ways like Maggie’s CommonHarvest is laying the foundation for the solutions we’re seeking. Thanks, Maggie, for giving me a story that illustrates what we do as Extension professionals.

Heirloom tomatoes from CommonHarvest offered for sale in fall 2012 at the Detroit Eastern Market.

Heirloom tomatoes from CommonHarvest offered for sale in fall 2012 at the Detroit Eastern Market.
Photo credit: Margaret Kantola.

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