Agriculturally Speaking...Michigan Celebrates Food and Agriculture Month

Jessy J. Sielski, Deputy Public Information Officer, Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development

At its most fundamental level, food is simply a basic human need. The calories and nutrition help keep us alive and moving. However, for most people, food is so much more than that. It can be the centerpiece of an entire family history. It can be part and parcel of a lifetime of world travels and encounters with different cultures. It can be the inspiration for a career in the culinary arts. It can even be a welcoming gift to new neighbor or a charitable gesture to a person in need. Rarely in our lives is food “just food,” whether we realize it or not.

To recognize just how much food and agriculture means in the lives of millions of Michiganders—including consumers, farmers, processors and many others—Michigan Governor Rick Snyder continued in the tradition of recognizing March as “Michigan Food and Agriculture Month.”

“Michigan’s food and agricultural sector is a cornerstone of Michigan’s continued reinvention,” stated Governor Snyder. “It continues to be a growing industry offering new business and career opportunities for Michiganders, which is one of the reasons I highlighted it in my State of the State address. Food and Agriculture Month is just one way we can recognize and show our appreciation for every person in this state who helps provide us with high quality, safe and nutritious food—and who help make Michigan a national leader in food and agriculture.”

Michigan is the second-most diverse state in the country when it comes to agriculture. Food and agriculture has an economic impact of more than $101 billion in Michigan, employs more than 52,000 farmers, and ranks in the top ten in 19 different commodities. Michigan ranks first in tart cherries, dry beans, cucumbers for pickling, and many floriculture varieties; and it is a major producer of asparagus, apples, carrots, celery and sugar beets.

For most of us, food is so plentiful and readily available, we often fail to realize how much of it is grown or made by people or families just down the road. Whether we’re enjoying a tender grilled steak at a summer barbeque, sweet apples in a homemade pie, crunchy potato chips for a late-night snack, or even a unique craft brew on a night out with friends, the odds are pretty good we’re enjoying something that another Michigan family has dedicated their lives to.

Take Honee Bear Canning Company in Lawton, Michigan, for example. Last week, Honee Bear President Steve Packer welcomed MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams and a small group of staffers (including myself) to their ever-expanding facility for a tour and a chat. Whether we crossed paths with a supervisor, a forklift driver, or a line-worker, we were met with friendly smiles and enthusiastic hellos. But only briefly. After all, there was work to be done.

Isao Asakura, International Sales and Marketing; Steve Carroll, Chief Financial Officer; Steve Packer, President and Chief Operating Officer; Charlie Stoker, Test Kitchen Manager; Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD Director; Glenn Rogers, Business Development.

From left to right: Isao Asakura, International Sales and Marketing; Steve Carroll, Chief Financial Officer; Steve Packer, President and Chief Operating Officer; Charlie Stoker, Test Kitchen Manager; Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD Director; Glenn Rogers, Business Development.

After completing the tour, we were directed upstairs to the Honee Bear test kitchen for an incredible lunch buffet featuring many of the products we saw being preserved only moments before. The sweet and savory aroma of warm cherry and blueberry pies, corn chowder, fried potatoes and peppers, and pickled asparagus wrapped in fresh deli meats filled the room. And humbly standing behind the kitchen counter was Honee Bear’s resident chef, Charlie Stoker, who had clearly spent hours preparing the meal for his new guests.

Test Kitchen Manager Charlie Stoker presents an array of delicious dishes featuring Honee Bee products.

“The food was absolutely delicious, but that wasn’t what made it memorable for us,” said Clover Adams. “What turned these seemingly simple foods into meaningful experiences for us was the fact that we had just met the hard-working people who are responsible for processing and delivering these foods to us every single day. We saw the photos of Honee Bear co-founder Ronald O. Packer, who, in 1943, worked alongside his wife Gwen to produce maple syrup, jams and jellies out of a building not much larger than a backyard shed. We heard stories of how these same foods are cooked and served to friends and family every year at football tailgates and holiday get-togethers. In those moments, you realize that you’re not just eating a stalk of asparagus or a slice of pie; you’re being welcomed in as a family friend, sharing in something that has been at the center of this family’s history for generations.”

The Honee Bear people are unique, but their story is not. And that is a wonderful thing. Throughout Michigan, countless food and agriculture businesses (big, small and in between) have their roots in family or personal history. Some have been passed down from one generation to the next. Others were born from the hobby, idea or passion of a single person. What they all have in common, however, is that at some point, their food has been passed along to others, which then becomes part of their life experience.

With the natural gap between the farmer, the processor and the consumer, it’s easy to reduce food and agriculture to a simple business transaction at the grocery store. In reality, there are tens of thousands of our fellow Michiganders who, while taking tremendous risks and working tireless hours, still look at their products with pride, as a gift to be shared and enjoyed by their friends, their families, and even people they will never have the opportunity to meet personally.

Food and Agriculture Month is a way for us to say “thank you” to all those who play a part in Michigan’s food and agriculture industry. So, to those who make it easy for us to put an infinite variety of safe, delicious food on our dinner tables; to those who create jobs for others to support their families; and to those who help enrich our life experiences through food…