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Homegrown Food: A Family Trend in Southeast Michigan

From home gardens to farmers markets to organic produce, parents and kids are getting in on fresh, local choices, mindful of healthy eating and the environment

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Summer Saturdays at the Royal Oak Farmers Market are hectic. The parking lot is packed with families stuffing bags of fresh flowers and produce into their cars. Inside, shoppers are lining up for just-picked vegetables, Michigan honey and advice on how to care for their gardens at home. Really, it's a festival of fresh food happening at hundreds of farmers markets across the country, and dozens throughout southeast Michigan.

Why? Motivated by anxiety over food contamination and the high cost of private-label organic produce, parents are rushing to local farmers markets in droves. And just as the organic movement has changed the way families eat, the local food movement is changing the way we think about where our family's food comes from – and maybe even whether it's time to start doing the farming ourselves.

Mental shift for parents

Megan Gunnell of Royal Oak brings her family to the market most Saturdays. "We're going to cook up a storm tonight, make some asparagus and shiitake mushrooms and support Michigan farmers," she says.

Her 10-year-old son Elliott says he can tell the difference between the products sold at the market and those from the grocery store. "I really like the eggs and the corn from here," he says. "They are a lot better tasting."

MSU organic outreach specialist Vicki Morrone has seen the growing interest in organics up close, as she helps organic vegetable and field crop producers in her work.

"There is a group of people, especially parents, who are concerned about the problems with pollution and contamination in our water and our food," Morrone says, "and if they see that organic has fewer toxins and pesticides – well, it's only natural they'd want to feed that to their kids."

Popularity of organics

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic farming has become one of the fastest-growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Sales of organic products skyrocketed from $3.6 billion in 1997 to 21.1 billion in 2008.

Results of the 2008 USDA Farm Census showed there were nearly 14,540 certified and exempt organic farms in the U.S. Michigan ranked 11th in the survey, with 461 certified and exempt farms. The "exempt" classification, which fits many local farms, means the farm is too small to go through the costly certification process, but that it follows National Organic Standards.

Although fans love that organics are grown more naturally and without the pesticides and hormones used in conventionally grown farm products, organic produce can also put a major strain on the grocery budget.

Lisa Boyd started buying organic produce at a national health-food chain store after her first child was born. But when the Troy mom had her second child, her husband wondered if they could still afford organics. That's when Boyd found her local farmers market.

"The prices at a farmers market are considerably less than at Kroger or Whole Foods or any other store," she says, "because you're buying direct from the farmers."

Increasingly, consumers are buying produce through vegetable stands and farmers markets. But there is also a way families can become members of a farm – many of which are more local than you would ever think.

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