In southwest Michigan, where the state’s legendary fruit belt begins and stretches north just off the Lake Michigan shore, Agriculture is not just a business for our farmers. It’s a way of life.
The state of Michigan is home to 10 million acres of farmland. As fate would have it, the state’s powerful coastal strip lives and breathes under a prime agricultural climate.
The soil is prime for producing everything from apples, cherries and blueberries to strawberries, grapes, peaches and more.
According to a study done by the Western Michigan University Department of History and the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center, Michigan's fruit belt is "two or three hundred miles along the west shore of Lake Michigan, very adaptable (for) growing fruit and vegetables. Because of its diversity (Michigan will) always be a prominent factor in agriculture..."
Not only does the southwest Michigan area have a history of producing fruits and vegetables for major markets, it has a history of staying abreast of advancing methods in the business of agriculture. Using private and public funds, farmers of the 19th century were able to advance their production by learning new methods.
Right here in Buchanan, the energy and agri-business Co-Alliance works to provide farmers with the information needed to keep up with trends and create stronger crops, while using efficient methods and techniques.
Southwest Michigan is now home to countless locally owned vegetable and fruit farms and dairy farms. Its farmers work tirelessly throughout the year producing corn, asparagus, apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries and cherries to say the least.
Those farms also breed countless area farmer's markets, where home grown, organic produce is available in abundance - and proceeds go right back into the farms to keep a strong, stable agricultural environment.
Buchanan has its own farmers' market. In Fennville, the family owned and operated Earl's Farm Market sees loyal customers stop in each summer to shop the farm's storefront where they can pick up fresh asparagus and strawberries, family recipe relish and hot sauce, honey and more. After picking up their produce, customers can also stop for ice cream and a slice of fresh baked, home made pie. Theyr'e so good, extras are made and kept frozen so you can take one home with you.
Benton Harbor, the “buckle in the fruit belt” the city is home to what the before mentioned study has called "one of the world's great fruit markets." The list of produce available at the Benton Harbor Fruit Market is endless, from beans, eggplant and okra, squash pickles and peppers to Michigan cherries, apples, plums, nectarines and watermelon.
Everything comes up blueberry at Jones Berry Farm in Bridgman, with U-pick blueberries, blueberry jam, syrup and even butter.
Travelling the southwest Michigan countryside for farm fresh produce stands and farmers markets is just one of the highlights in discovering the area and its powerful impact in agriculture – but when you’re looking for fresh produce right in town – just ask for Vites’s. This hometown farm has been producing some of the best corn and produce around.
Some more facts from the state's Department of Agriculture: the "agri-food" business "contributes $63.7 billion annually to the states economy" and provides "nearly 25 percent" of the state's population with an estimated one million jobs. Through the state's agriculture, "over 200 commodities" are produced making Michigan the "second most agriculturally diverse state in the U.S." Over "60 wineries are operating in Michigan" which amounts to an estimated $300 million dollars in economic activity.