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Posted: 01/15/14

MI crops to be used in
federal food program

Observer Staff Writer
      Low-income families around the country will get a taste of Michigan thanks to a federal food assistance program.
       U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who serves as chairwoman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, announced on Jan. 8 plans to use Michigan apples, cherries and other fruits and vegetables to help stock food pantries and other organizations.
       The produce would be provided to low-income families through the Emergency Food Assistance Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program provides domestically produced food from around the nation as well as helping the USDA stabilize prices in agriculture by purchasing food.
       "Michigan growers have been requesting participation in this program, and I'm pleased this initiative will be purchasing Michigan products," Stabenow said.
       Officials said the program will begin using Michigan products immediately, and has come to Michigan growers in the past to purchase surplus produce.
       Abby Jacobson, Westview Orchards co-owner, said she is glad the national program is making it easier to donate, as her farm has found donating difficult in the past.
       "It's just been hard because people have just wanted canned goods," she said. "They're changing it is great because it's healthier for those who are in need."
       She said her orchard would be willing to participate in the Emergency Food Assistance Program, as it already provides goods to local groups.
       "I think it's very important, it's been shown and proven scientifically and medically that fresh fruits and vegetables are very healthy for you," she said.
       She said Westview doesn't have a set amount of food to donate, but evaluates each request on a case-by-case basis. The amount of donated food also depends on how well a harvest was for the orchard.
       "We certainly don't want it to go to waste when someone could use it or needs it," she said.
       Other orchards have donation efforts focused on the Michigan area. Paul Blake, co-owner of Blake's Orchard, said his operations donate goods like melons, apples and cider to Gleaner's Community Food Bank in Detroit.
       "There is enough of a need on our own state that we're trying to take care of Michigan now," he said.
       He said joining the national program can be tough due to logistics, but would be interested in participating.
       "There are a lot of people that are less fortunate than us that are going hungry, and I think if farmers have a surplus or don't have a market for it, it's a great outlet for them," he said.
       In a similar vein, Armada farmer George VanHoutte said he works with Forgotten Harvest to provide leftover crops to those less fortunate. He said it's a great effort to take part in, but those that receive produce should be given recipes on how to prepare the donated goods.
       "People have got to get educated on how to cook that stuff," he said. "A lot of people don't have an idea on what to do with it."
       Jeff Mulholland, a partner at Miller's Big Red Orchard, said his orchard hasn't been approached by people requesting crops or donations, but would be glad to look into it. In the meantime, he said the orchard does what it can, such as providing baked goods to nursing facilities.
       "We do donate u-pick trips into the orchard, that kind of thing," he said.
       Like other farmers, he said a large part of donating has to do with having extra crops. This past year, he said the farm had to purchase crops from other orchards due to hail damage.

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