Michigan offers local foods even in the winter

It might be winter but locally grown and produced foods are still available.

Some people may believe that the only way to get local foods is to purchase it from a farmer’s market or local farm market and that it is too difficult or nearly impossible to get locally grown foods in the winter in Michigan. However, many stores carry locally grown and processed foods in Michigan. The first one that comes to my mind is Welch's grape juice. Yes, the corporate offices are out east, but a large percentage of the concord grapes that go into the actual juice are grown in Southwest Michigan and stored in a plant in Lawton, Mich.

Several major store chains and a host of smaller local grocery chains stock Michigan products. We, the consumer, just have to remember that in the winter many of these products are not necessarily "fresh" but instead are fresh frozen and found in the frozen food aisle or were canned at the peak of freshness to preserve them. While we may prefer fresh from the garden, and a chef might say that canned foods don't cook the same, nutritionists who work with health and nutrition at Michigan State University Extension report that nutrients are still present and that frozen and canned foods are perfectly fine to feed your family a balanced nutritious meal. What both would agree on is that the highly processed foods high in starches and sugars are the ones to keep to a minimum in our diets. This is especially true if you are struggling with obesity or other health issues such as diabetes or heart disease.

Fresh local foods that can be stored are always available in the produce aisle in many stores. These include: potatoes, onions, apples, pears, turnips, etc. Local foods available frozen are blueberries, strawberries, beans, peas, corn, etc. It is difficult to know what foods are local when the corporate headquarters are in another state, but a drive through many towns can begin to illustrate a different picture. Mott’s applesauce cannery in Paw Paw is an example of this, as is Welch's. Michigan blueberries, cherries, and pickles are other examples of Michigan grown food; and don’t forget about Pioneer and Big Chief sugar. Some stores are now hosting special local foods sections; Meijer is an example of this.

Many store brands or private label foods come from local canneries such as Burnett Foods in East Jordan, Mich., making it a bit more challenging to just "know" what is local. It means doing a little research. With my smart phone, I can look up a manufacturer and learn about it on the spot. Gerber Baby Food, which is a global company and a subsidiary of Nestlé, is still located in Fremont Mich.; Honee Bear Canning is in Lawton, Mich. Keebler, while a snack food company, has a factory in Grand Rapids; and there are still many hundreds of local bakeries, breweries, creameries, candy, and other artisan food shops in many towns.

Dairy and bakery products are some of the items that you can feel more secure about being local as they are highly perishable and are typically produced, packaged and sold locally. These may be owned by a conglomerate, so shopping for locally produced foods may be a bit more difficult because rarely is that information put on the label. This website provides a short list of some Michigan commercial bakery companies to give you an idea of what we mean here. Local foods are available in the winter; it just requires a bit more savvy approach to your shopping.

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