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Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development grants $150,000 to local companies for increased production, sustainability measures and new jobs

Iron Fish Distillery and Walters Gardens chosen as performance grant recipients

LANSING, MI - Today, the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development voted to approve two Food and Agriculture Investment Fund grants for local Michigan businesses, Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville and Walters Gardens in Zeeland, totaling $150,000. These funds will increase production, sustainability efforts, and organic farming practices.

“Michigan’s agricultural industry is the backbone of our economy,” said Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Local businesses must be supported and assisted so they can increase production to meet demands, employ more Michiganders, and incorporate sustainability practices that will further set their businesses up for long-lasting success.”

Iron Fish Distillery is Michigan’s first farm distillery, growing grain and distilling spirits, and barrel finishing sourced whiskey. This MAEAP certified working farm and distillery attracts over 100,000 guests annually to the agricultural destination, reborn on a long-time abandoned 120-acre farm located in rural Springdale Township in Manistee County.

Iron Fish Distillery LLC will be utilizing a $55,000 grant for two specific projects. The first will focus on expanding the spirits distillery to meet the demand outpacing current capacity. The second project will focus on making needed investments to the facilities and property to accommodate more visitors and expand menu offerings showcasing farm-to-table food and spirit offerings.

"MDARD's support of our expansion project is a recognition that agricultural destination farms focused on craft beverages, like Iron Fish Distillery, are important contributors to Michigan's four-season outdoor economy", said Richard Anderson, Co-Owner of the family-owned farm distillery located in north Manistee County. "Our expansion is possible because Michigan consumers and retailers are embracing local, and this project will dramatically increase our ability to source ingredients from Michigan growers in the production of our spirits and food and beverage offerings."

These projects will more than double the amount of grain Iron Fish will purchase from Michigan farms to 725,000 pounds annually, increasing the number of growers supplying Iron Fish from six to 10 farms, including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where they currently contract rye grain production. Investing in agricultural destinations fuels consumer interest in Michigan craft spirits and is primarily responsible for driving demand for Iron Fish spirits sold by retailers across Michigan and other states.

Walters Gardens is a family-owned business that started in 1946 with five acres of bare root perennials. In 1976, they added a tissue culture lab, and in 2004, they started their own in-house breeding program. Walters Gardens supplies genetics for the Proven Winners brand and Walters Gardens introductions. The company offers over 1,000 perennial varieties in its catalog, sold as bare-root plants and plug trays.

“Walters Gardens is thrilled to receive this grant funding for our new expansion project. It will help our company increase the availability of our top-quality product for our valuable Michigan growers, as well as growers nationwide. It will also help create new jobs in the West Michigan area in an exciting and innovative industry,” said Aren Phillips, Greenhouse Systems Manager.

Walters Gardens will use the performance-based grant of $95,000 to construct a 40,000 square-foot production facility with four acres of automated greenhouses. The site is being prepared for 20 acres of greenhouses over 10 years in three construction phases. This grant will allow for hiring up to 50 new employees of various skill levels.

For more information about MDARD grants, visit