A Tale of Michigan Blueberries
Oh, the Places We’ll Go: How Michigan Blueberries Move Through Our Food System.
The food and agriculture industry is a major driver of Michigan's economy, contributing $94 billion annually. This figure jumped 50 percent from 2004 to 2010 with the majority of growth coming from farming.
To understand the story behind this number, we decided to track how and where Michigan produce moves through the food system from field to fork, creating this growth.
We decided to focus on a belle of Michigan's 200 commodity crops: the mighty blueberry. To hone in even further, we decided to focus on blueberries from one source, Farmers on the Move, the only cooperative of Hispanic farmers in Michigan. Farmers on the Move aggregates a handful of fruit and vegetable varieties from 13 members on 12 different farms. So just where do their blueberries land?
Farmers on the Move currently sells its goods at eight farmers markets across southern Michigan including Saturdays at Detroit Eastern Market. SNAP beneficiaries in Michigan can use their Double Up Food Bucks to support this unique cooperative which is helping Hispanic farmers in the state transition from low-paid farm workers to independent business owners.
Farmers on the Move blueberries
Hello, year-round blueberries!
Miss the blueberry season? Now you can find Farmers on the Move blueberries in the dead of winter thanks to Michigan Fresh Frozen, a pilot program of Detroit’s Eastern Market and Forgotten Harvest supported by Fair Food Network.
Here’s how it works: Farmers on the Move blueberries are selected at the height of the season and brought to a facility in Oak Park, where Forgotten Harvest staff washes, flash freezes, and packages them under the Michigan Fresh Frozen label. Look for the berries this winter at Eastern Market as well as Detroit’s Peaches & Greens store and mobile market
From Assisted Living Facilities to City Hall and the Hospital
Farmers on the Move blueberries and other produce are distributed across the Battle Creek community in innovative ways by local nonprofit Sprout Urban Farms. Sprout buys its berries on Wednesday and prominently features them at its stand at the Battle Creek farmers market. On Thursdays, the berries find their way into Sprout’s Fresh on Wheels mobile market, which was recently certified to accept SNAP benefits as well as Double Up Food Bucks. More than three-quarters of the mobile market’s stops are at assisted living facilities supporting the town’s senior community with fresh, healthy food.
Sprout Urban Farms Fresh off Wheels mobile market
Looking ahead, you may find the blueberries at Sprout’s newest endeavor: Friday food trucks. Sprout currently sells veggies and prepared salads in two parking lots at either end of the city, including next to city hall and a major defense center in town. You could see more food trucks in the streets of Battle Creek soon thanks to a recently passed city mobile vending ordinance. Finally, you can find the blueberries at the Bronson Battle Creek Hospital, which purchases 100 pounds of blueberries a month to include in the menus of its employee cafeteria.
Salsa & Other Value Added Products
Farmers on the Move is adding new value added products including salsas, which have a subtle sweetness thanks to the addition of blueberries. You can buy these directly from Farmers on the Move now. Stay tuned for larger distribution as they refine the labeling and packaging with support from Michigan State University Product Center.
From Detroit to Chicago
While farmers markets and local distribution are important, it is the regional wholesalers and distributors that make up the majority of Farmers on the Move sales. Wholesalers include MBG Marketing, the largest marketer of fresh and processed cultivated blueberries in the world, headquartered in Grand Junction, Michigan, and conveniently found at blueberries.com. Such wholesalers process, package, and distribute Farmers on the Move blueberries under their own labels at major grocery store chains across the region – look for the Naturipe label.
This means that we may all have eaten a Farmers on the Move blueberry without even realizing it – a delicious win for families, a pioneering group of Latino farmers, and our state's economy.