Cultivate Michigan initiative promotes Michigan cabbages by hosting a field trip

A recent Cultivate Michigan field trip in southeastern Michigan highlighted the importance of the cabbage crop to farmers and consumers, and its versatility and value to institutional food purchasers.

Cabbage tour | Photo by Terry McLean
Cabbage tour | Photo by Terry McLean

Michigan cabbage is a nutritious and versatile vegetable for home cooks and institutional food service staff alike. It boasts high nutritional value, several varieties and uses, and a long period of availability (June to December) as a cool season crop grown in the spring and fall. A recent Cultivate Michigan cabbage field trip for institutional food service staff, led by Michigan State University Extension food systems educators, highlighted on-farm production, season extension techniques, wholesale distribution, packing lines and cold storage areas through the lens of a food rescue organization. Tour participants represented food banks, small scale farmers, and food safety professionals.

Why cabbage? Michigan farmers’ committed 3,500 acres to cabbage production across the state, producing 115 million pounds of cabbage worth $17.2 million in 2016. According to the Michigan Ag Council, Michigan ranks 10th in the nation in the production of cabbage, producing several types in staggered harvests, allowing for a longer fresh cabbage season. Types of cabbage include green, curly, red, Napa (Chinese cabbage) and Bok choy. It is available throughout the year in its processed forms, which include coleslaw, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

This cabbage tour was hosted by the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, and its institutional purchasing campaign Cultivate Michigan, which is co-coordinated by Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the Ecology Center and is supported by Michigan State University Extension. Goals for the Cultivate Michigan cabbage tour included learning first-hand about production and distribution through one of Michigan’s leading food rescue organizations, Forgotten Harvest, whose mission is to fight both hunger and nutritious food waste. Participants first met at Forgotten Harvest’s farm in Fenton, which is dedicated to growing a diversity of nutrient dense vegetable crops to feed food insecure people throughout the region. The farm grew 15 different crops this year, and has produced a million pounds of produce in 2017. Next, we moved on to tour their warehouse facility in Oak Park, and learned about their diverse organizational and business model by highlighting institutional food service operations. We learned that their high-volume, produce centric Forgotten Harvest warehouse facility and its well-developed perishable food rescue logistical network covers 2,000 square miles a day. A privately branded Forgotten Harvest food line and an opportunity to co-brand locally produced food items like salad dressings exists through a marketing partnership with the organization, both of which bring in additional revenue to support their mission.

Tour participants enjoyed the networking opportunities that connecting local farmers, food safety staff and food distributors enables. The Forgotten Harvest Farm Manager and the Vice President of Operations fielded many questions from the tour participants about the farm’s growing practices and experiences with institutional clients.   Forgotten Harvest collects surplus prepared and perishable food from 800 commercial or licensed food facilities, who donate what would otherwise go to waste, to a network of 250 emergency food providers in the Metro Detroit area. They rescued over 45 million pounds of food in 2016.

Visit Michigan Farm to Institution Network, which is working to link farm to institution efforts across the state and create opportunities for learning, for resource sharing and collaboration. Visit Michigan State University Extension’s Community Food Systems page for more information on building a sustainable food system across Michigan.

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