New MSU incubator farm will help feed Upper Peninsula, fuel local economy

MSU AgBioResearch scientist Matt Raven has been awarded nearly $500,000 to establish an incubator farm in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to help small-scale agricultural producers build secure food systems.

Matt Raven, MSU AgBioResearch educator

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University (MSU) AgBioResearch scientist Matt Raven has been awarded nearly $500,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish an incubator farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). The grant is one of four recently awarded to MSU to help small-scale agricultural producers build secure food systems.

“It’s important to look at how we can make local communities more food-secure,” said Raven, MSU professor of community sustainability. “In this project, we will mindfully and holistically look at food systems, soil health, and ways to optimize hoophouses and other season-extension practices for vegetable production in northern latitudes.”  

Most of the UP is considered a “food desert,” an urban or rural area lacking convenient access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. The region faces high costs of importing supplies and food, low-quality soils and a cool northern climate with a short growing season. Raven’s incubator farm aims to respond to these challenges by creating an educational hub focusing on local, nutrient-dense food and technologies relevant to its production.

The farm will be based at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC) in Chatham, a 1,262-acre research site with programmatic emphasis on livestock, plant and local food systems.

This project is one of several at UPREC with the goal of building an integrated food system tailored to the UP. The research efforts of Raven, as well as his UPREC colleagues, aim to root a value-added food system in healthy soil, sustainable management practices and experiential learning.

“Integrating an incubator farm at UPREC provides a focal point for research and education efforts to improve the sustainability and resiliency of agriculture and food systems in Michigan’s UP,” said Raven. “This programming will supply beginning and established farmers, avocational gardeners, youth and community members with important knowledge and skills in entrepreneurial, four-season food production.”   

The farm will be the foundation of education and MSU Extension outreach programming, employing lessons learned from the MSU Student Organic Farm, which uses year-round, small-scale diversified farming techniques to increase the availability of fresh, local vegetables and to teach entrepreneurial skills. 

Research and education efforts at the farm will also stress sustainable practices that improve soil health because UP producers regularly contend with marginal, low-yielding soil.

“Utilizing conservation agricultural practices and emphasizing soil health can improve the environmental quality of the Upper Peninsula,” Raven concluded. “The anticipated result of this project is an increase in the availability of nutrient-dense food in the UP, with simultaneous improvements in soil health and in the overall economic sustainability of the region.”

Raven will collaborate with four other MSU faculty members:

  • John A. Biernbaum, MSU professor of horticulture.
  • Kimberly Cassida, MSU plant, soil and microbial science academic specialist. 
  • Laura Schmitt Olabisi, MSU assistant professor of community sustainability.
  • Jason Rowntree, MSU assistant professor of beef cattle and forage utilization. 

This research is funded in part by MSU AgBioResearch and the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

The grant was awarded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program, which supports projects that sustain and enhance agriculture-related activities in rural areas, protect the environment, enhance the quality of life and alleviate poverty.

MSU AgBioResearch engages in innovative, leading-edge research that combines scientific expertise with practical experience to generate economic prosperity, sustain natural resources, and enhance the quality of life in Michigan, the nation and the world. It encompasses the work of more than 300 scientists in six MSU colleges – Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science, Social Science and Veterinary Medicine – and has a network of 13 research centers across the state.

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