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Let it Grow

Dianne Conners - August 31st, 2006
When early spring turned unseasonably warm this year, Kingsley area greenhouse farm-er Richard Zenner found himself with thousands of pounds of tomatoes growing faster than weeds after rain. Faster, he feared, than he’d be able to find buyers to purchase them on such unexpected short notice.
Zenner, however, is one of 200 farms now listed in the nonprofit Michigan Land Use Institute’s (MLUI) expanded and updated Taste the Local Difference food guide—which at the height of harvest season this Labor Day weekend links consumers to more than 120 products grown by local farms. The colorful print and searchable Web-based guide lists everything from peaches, sweet corn, and even burgers and brats for the grill, to jams, honey, and maple syrup for brunch or gifts. And the Institute’s www.LocalDifference.org web site clues those who’d rather not cook to more than 70 area restaurants and caterers (as well as stores and lodging facilities) that feature local farm foods.

WHO YOU GONNA CALL?
Via his participation in the guide, Zenner called for help from the MLUI, which also conducts market research and makes connections with food distributors and buyers.
As a result, he was hooked up with Leonardo’s Produce, a Detroit-based produce distributor eager to satisfy increasing demand from area restaurants for locally-grown foods. With this referral, Zenner was able to sell
about 1,200 pounds of tomatoes to a
dozen local restaurants and launch a new business relationship for reaching more customers. In turn, Leonardo’s Produce owner Sam Maniaci is glad to have a quality local product to showcase to the restaurants he serves.
And chefs that Leonardo’s supplies
are “jumping up and down” at the
prospect of receiving more local produce, said Eric Hahn, Leonardo’s Northern Michigan marketing associate, who grew up and lives in Charlevoix.
“The reason why they like it is that they know they are getting a fresh local product and that it is helping the local economy and keeping the money in Northern Michigan,” Hahn said.
In fact the 200 farms listed in the guide—located from Manistee to Mackinac—are up from 160 last year and represent 400 full- and part-time jobs, and more than 28,000 acres of farmland.

WHAT’S INSIDE
In addition to listing farms, this year’s Taste the Local Difference guide points shoppers to specialty food producers who offer locally-grown ingredients. Everyone from household cooks to restaurant chefs can buy award-winning cheeses made with milk from a farm near Cedar; breads made with local honey and dried cherries; and jams, honey spreads, salsas, and even teas made with fruit from the region’s farms. Two chocolatiers even use local cherries, cherry concentrate, wines, and brandies in their delectable products.
You’ll find plenty of cherry farms in Taste the Local Difference, but also much more. The guide shows the region’s great farm diversity, with everything from asparagus to strawberries and eggs, milk, and meat.
The list includes “Community Supported Agriculture” farms, which sell a season’s worth of vegetables and other products to families that pay a full season’s fee in advance. It also includes farms that sell at farm stands, from the simple honor-system table to full-blown, store-like markets. There are farms that specialize in selling to restaurants only, and farms interested in selling to schools.
The guide also points to the region’s successful wine industry, its 17 community farmers markets, and opportunities to help link truly farm-fresh foods to families in need.

Diane Conners coordinates the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Taste the Local Difference campaign.
 
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