By Savannah Halleaux, Public Affairs Specialist, Michigan Farm Service Agency
“Michigan is a real microcosm for what I see when I travel around the nation,” USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini said about the Mitten State, which boasts the second most diverse agriculture economy in the United States.
Michigan’s fruitful local food system and budding urban agriculture scene was the focus of Dolcini’s visit. This focus led him first to Almar Orchards, a fifth-generation family-owned organic apple orchard in Flushing.
Jim Koan, owner of Almar Orchards, considered retiring from farming after an unusually warm winter which was coupled with a late freeze, causing his 300-acres of organic fruit trees to produce only a single bushel of apples. The unusual frost freeze cycle also caused death and irreparable damage to trees covering whole sections of the orchard.
“It is tough to be a farmer these days,” said Dolcini. “That is why the safety nets that FSA provides are so essential.”
Despite the devastating crop loss, Koan was able to apply for the FSA Tree Assistance Program (TAP) to replant acres of trees. Koan said that thanks to the safety net programs offered by FSA, his children now see agriculture as a viable career and have returned to the farm to own and operate Almar Orchards.
Administrator Dolcini also had the opportunity to visit Flint, where Michigan Food and Farming Systems hosted a working group. At this event, urban farming representatives from Flint and Detroit discussed the challenges facing agriculture and food systems in their communities, and how FSA may be able to help.
“I think urban agriculture has got to have a seat at the table to make sure that we are serving the folks that are farming in urban areas, like Flint and Detroit, just as well as folks who are farming in other parts of the country,” said Dolcini.
The working group of urban farmers illustrated the challenges faced by producers in many urban communities. Not only do many of the urban producers use non-traditional agriculture models, but they also maintain a strong focus on serving food deserts, improving nutrition in impoverished areas and redeveloping blighted neighborhoods.
During the meeting, Administrator Dolcini noted that while FSA has been really good about serving the needs of traditional farms and ranches across the country, the agency has more work to do in reaching farmers who have been underserved historically by the agency, or who might have new ways of doing business.
“It is important for urban farmers who are interested in learning a little bit more about our programs know that they can come to USDA, get their questions answered and hopefully develop a relationship that builds their businesses and serves their communities,” said Dolcini.
To learn more about the Tree Assistance Program, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/tap. To learn more about programs that help underserved, urban, or new farmers, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/factsheets, or contact your local FSA office. To find your local FSA office, visit http://offices.usda.gov.