Fruit of Traverse City’s Labor

TRAVERSE CITY-There's a business in town that recently signed a lucrative contract with a multinational French corporation to produce a line of products, creating a huge buzz in the manufacturing community in northern Michigan.

It's expected to create 94 sustainable jobs, utilize the skills of our region's workforce, and tap other plentiful economic resources, such as the raw materials that make up the product.

Would you believe this business is Cherry Growers, Inc., a cherry cooperative? The product creating all of the buzz is GoGo SqueeZ, the first squeezable, resealable, 100 percent fruit applesauce.

Over the last decade, through the relentless and often creative efforts of organizations and entrepreneurs, stories like Cherry Growers, Inc.'s are now evident at every turn. In March, the fruits of this work were celebrated during the fifth annual Farm Route to Prosperity Summit at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City.

The event, a centerpiece for the Grand Vision's Food & Farming Network, featured a morning of speakers telling their success stories, with key updates from important sectors in this dynamic entrepreneurial space.

Speakers on the dais included co-chairs of the Food and Farming Network, Rob Sirrine from MSU Extension, and Jim Sluyter from Michigan Land Use Institute, along with other members of the network-farmers, school food service directors, even artisan cheese makers.

Other success stories included:

– Sue Kurta of Kingsley is producing one of the region's first commercially available, cultured, ripened cheeses. She skipped a traditional speech and played a delightful video telling the story of her passion for her cheese-making business, Boss Mouse Cheese, and wrapped it up with an elegant 60-second treatise on how cheese is made.

– Farmer and entrepreneur Nic Welty told his story of collaborating with other farmers in a consortium that will allow them to provide schools with a steady volume of colorful local produce. He also explained, with the help of Rob Sirrine, how a food hub works. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development selected Traverse City as one of only six communities in Michigan for a Food Hub grant. A local food hub will help anchor more food system entrepreneurs in Traverse City.

– Steve Nance, Oryana's general manager, spoke of the business's role in creating new economic opportunities for local investment.

– Annie Shetler, of the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center and Baker College, told the crowd about their efforts to provide business support and education to the agriculture community.

Along with the grassroots reports, Laura Galbraith of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce announced that the Chamber would take part in a consortium of lenders making more than $4.5 million available to local businesses.

"We're trying to be creative in aggregating new sources of business financing, especially for businesses that can't get or qualify for traditional funding," Galbraith said. "And many agricultural businesses would fit this funding criteria."

A full report detailing all the speakers, with video clips of many, can be found at foodandfarmingnetwork.org.

Bill Palladino is Senior Policy Specialist with the Michigan Land Use Institute focusing on the Taste the Local Difference marketing program.

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