Nonprofit Helps Michigan Farmers' Business Grow

IDA, Mich. (AP) — Charles Bagwell wants to run an organic fish farm that would generate a million pounds of tilapia a year. A southeast Michigan nonprofit wants to help him get his feet wet. Bagwell, of Erie, was one of about 30 people who attended a recent forum conducted by the Food System Economic Partnership.

IDA, Mich. (AP) — Charles Bagwell wants to run an organic fish farm that would generate a million pounds of tilapia a year. A southeast Michigan nonprofit wants to help him get his feet wet.

Bagwell, of Erie, was one of about 30 people who attended a recent forum conducted by the Food System Economic Partnership. The Ann Arbor-based organization promotes locally grown food for sale to local farmers markets, retail businesses and restaurants.

Bagwell said he would like to start construction of his tilapia farm within six months. He wants to keep the farm and fish warm with heat from a proposed trash-to-energy plant in Monroe County's Erie Township.

Jane Bush, a business development specialist for the partnership, said there is growing demand for locally grown food such as fruits, vegetables, eggs and other farm products. She said local producers could share in millions of dollars if southeast Michigan grew all the food its residents consume.

Michaelle Rehmann, director of the partnership's Farm to School Program, told those attending the forum that local growers have opportunities to sell produce, meat and dairy products to schools, universities, hospitals, correctional facilities and even homeless shelters for the needy.

Schools in Ann Arbor and Chelsea and a charter school in Detroit already are holding "Farm Fresh Fridays" or Wednesdays in the fall where locally grown green beans, cauliflower, potatoes and other produce are served in the cafeterias.

"That's great for students and their health and translates into more opportunities for local farmers," Rehmann said. One school district had been paying $45 a bushel for apples from the state of Washington, but the partnership found a local grower who sold them for $30 a bushel, she said.

Henry Ford Health Systems uses fresh food from local farms to serve to its patients and employees at its hospital in Oakland County's West Bloomfield Township. "These are institutions are not going away, so you can maintain that relationship with them," Rehmann said.

Bill Whittaker came to the forum looking for ways to finance expanding his raspberry and strawberry farm in LaSalle. He spoke with Tim Lake, a business consultant with the Monroe County Industrial Development Corp., one of the forum's sponsors, about creating a plan to expand the business.

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