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New Pork Markets for Old-Fashioned Farmers and March Conference Highlight New Family Farm Opportunities

Stubbornness is paying off for some southwest Michigan farms that still raise pork the old-fashioned way: Outdoors, where pigs can root around and sows can build nests to farrow their young. The Niman Ranch Pork Company, the nation’s leading marketer of natural pork, is paying top dollar to these and other operations that can help the company supply restaurant and retail markets that are growing at 35 percent per year.

The upcoming Michigan Family Farm Conference, scheduled for the last weekend of March, will focus on other, similar opportunities throughout the state. As those who attend the conference will discover, there are a growing number of new markets for safe, succulent, homegrown foods. The conference agenda includes examples of these markets, advice on developing them for smaller-scale operations, and national experts speaking on the potential and future of family farming.

Pork Possibilities
A recent article published by the Michigan Land Use Institute points out that Niman has plenty of room in its network for more Michigan farmers, especially those who can produce pork year-round to deliver the consistent supply of fresh meat the company needs. Paul Willis, manager of Niman Ranch Pork, told the Institute: “We’re getting 50 to 150 pigs a week so far in Michigan. We could use another 1,000 pigs per week right now.”

Niman Ranch Pork’s parent company, Niman Ranch, also sells beef and lamb nationwide to high-end restaurants and stores. For the complete story on Niman’s budding partnership with pork farmers in southwestern Michigan, click here: http://www.mlui.org/growthmanagement/fullarticle.asp?fileid=16647

Family Farms Conference
Although Niman officials will not be at the Michigan Family Farms Conference, the spirit of innovation and independence that underlies that company and its network of family farmer suppliers definitely will be. In addition to guidance on finding and developing new markets, the conference, slated for March 26-27 at Lansing’s Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, will offer perspectives on passing on the family farm, risk management, value-added agriculture, and production and marketing for small farms. For more information, click here: http://www.miffs.org/asp/2004Annual.asp

Patty Cantrell is a journalist and the director of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Seeds of Prosperity project, which is attracting economic development attention and resources to entrepreneurial agriculture and community food systems. You can reach her at patty@mlui.org.

Background Information:
The Michigan Land Use Institute has an extensive archive of original research and reporting on Michigan’s farm and land use issues at its award-winning Web site, www.mlui.org.

The Institute’s comprehensive, 20-page report on the development of “New Entrepreneurial Agriculture” in Michigan is available at: http://mlui.org/growthmanagement/fullarticle.asp?fileid=16398

A large collection of recent articles about the business of farming in Michigan and elsewhere is available at: http://www.mlui.org/GrowthManagement/gm.asp?pid=3&key=1&sub=14


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