All posts by kim

Honeybees in Michigan: A Closer Look

By KT Tomey

By now, most people have heard that honeybees around the world are struggling with a health problem that is causing a dramatic decline in their numbers. In the past few decades, most US beekeepers have suffered heavy losses. In Michigan, it’s not uncommon for beekeepers to lose 60% of their bees during the winter months. Roger Sutherland, President of Southeast Michigan Beekeepers Association (SEMBA) has been keeping honeybees for 42 years, and characterized the first 20 years as “the land of milk and honey.” In the past 20, he has seen as a gradual decline with greater winter losses each year, no matter what he does.

The term “colony collapse disorder” or CCD has made its way into the popular press since 2006 when it was first characterized. Though CCD has wreaked havoc nationally, claiming a quarter of our 2.4 million honeybee hives, CCD has not been much of a problem in Michigan. According to Sutherland, only one case of CCD has been reported in the state. The disorder is defined by several very specific criteria, including a complete absence of adult bees in colonies with little or no build-up of dead bees in or around the colonies, the presence of honey and pollen that are not immediately robbed by other bees, as well as several other conditions. CCD has mainly been an issue among commercial beekeepers, though admittedly formal data collection on backyard hobbyists is lacking.

When asked about the cause of bee deaths, most beekeepers will say that mites are major contributors to the problem, particularly the Verroa and tracheal mites. Prior to the arrival of these parasites in the 1980s, normal winter losses were 10-20% in the Midwest. Another major culprit is Nosema apis a spore-forming parasite that invades the intestinal tracts of adult bees causing nosema disease, a sort of bee diarrhea. Bees are more likely to have a problem if they can’t get out of the hive to “go to the bathroom” during the winter because the lack of ventilation allows spores to build up. A couple of warm days throughout winter months can help to mitigate the impact of this parasite, though it won’t necessarily prevent the disease. On the flip side, if winters are too consistently warm, bees are likely to be more active and eat through their food stores much earlier in the season, leading to a risk of starvation in late winter months.

Diseases are only part of the problem. Many entomologists and beekeepers are pointing their fingers at pesticides such as Merit that are routinely used on domestic crops such as apples. Many apple orchards are sprayed with Merit early in the season and when honeybees are in full pollination mode. And while the American government has yet to act, four European countries have already banned a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids because of their suspected impact on honeybee deaths. These pesticides are systemic chemicals that work their way through the plant, attacking the nervous system of insects that come into contact with it. The substances also get into life-sustaining pollen and nectar.

Our changing food system is also to blame, according to Royal Oak-based organic beekeeper Rich Wieske. Increased demand for pollination services nationwide has lead to dramatic increases in the stress level of bees. A Midwestern beekeeper who rents his bees to pollinate a California crop will pack them onto a truck and travel to the site with the bees in tow. Along the way, bees are fed high-fructose corn syrup and pollen substitute. Continue reading Honeybees in Michigan: A Closer Look

Back in the USSA – The United States of Sustainable America

“Then I realized – I’m a farmer. I can do anything.” — Jim Koan

Jim Koan (pronounced with Michigan pragmatism as “cone” not “co-an”) has a dog named Felony, raises mighty-antlered reindeer, and Royal Palms – a breed of turkey so antique Ben Franklin was probably the last person who ever heard of it. Jim is also the 3rd generation owner, after his dad and grand-dad, of Al-Mar Orchards where he is brewing excellent hard cider and raising pastured heritage pigs. Jim is among the leaders like Joel Salatin from Michael Pollan’s now-famous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, who is that rare breed of farmer succeeding (he’s put 5 kids through college) and expanding his business. Jim is producing organic fruit, hard cider and pork in a way the American revolutionaries would recognize, and in a way that is also informed by the very latest research and technology.

Continue reading Back in the USSA – The United States of Sustainable America

4 Places to Get Your Fresh Local Turkeys for Thanksgiving!

Ernst Farm Turkeys in Ann Arbor

The Ernst family farm (in addition to chickens) has fresh turkeys on offer. They are Broad-breasted Whites and will be in the range of 20-25 lbs. dressed. They are $2.00/lb. and can be picked up at the Farmer’s Market on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving from 7am – 12pm. Or, they can be picked up at the Ernst Farm at 9440 Spies Rd. west of Ann Arbor that afternoon, by prior arrangement.

Call Ernst Farm at: 734-662-8085

Or see Mrs. Ernst at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

Aric VanNatter Turkeys in Dexter

Aric has heritage Naragansett turkeys. They are fed natural soy, corn, oats, minerals, and fish meal for protein. They are outside on pasture and moved around every week.

Aric grows about 25 turkeys that he processes himself on his farm. Continue reading 4 Places to Get Your Fresh Local Turkeys for Thanksgiving!

A Slow Food Farm Tour August 4, 2007

Google Map of:

  • Old Pine Farm
  • The Blueberry Patch
  • Tantre Farm

Old Pine Farm

Old Pine Farm –

One of the things that I’ve spent the most time examining in my food habits is the morality and economics of eating meat. We don’t eat a lot of meat, but when we do we want to be conscientious about it. Especially regarding the treatment of animals who are raised for meat in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs or factory farms. Because these places are immoral, polluting and hazardous (and because CAFOs are where most of the meat now sold cheaply in stores come from), we’ve stopped buying meat and chicken from traditional groceries. So it was wonderful to learn that there is an alternative that is both sustainable and humane. Old Pine Farm is on a tree-lined country road in Manchester. Kris Hirth raises chickens, cows, pigs, and emu for meat and offers a meat CSA – a monthly box of 13 pounds of meat.
Old Pine Pig

Scratching the back of a pig with an old corncob, Kris’ regard for and connection with her animals is undeniable. She raises these animals with care for their well-being and with feed grown on her family’s farm. She demonstrates her care for her animals by Continue reading A Slow Food Farm Tour August 4, 2007

Michigan Cheeses

Yes, Virginia, there is a Michigan Artisanal Cheese

And surprise – according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan is the 8th largest producer of cow’s milk in the country, with 300,000 cows producing 5.7 billion pounds of milk. While everyone in Michigan probably knows about Pinconning cheese produced on a massive scale and sold in hard orange vacuum packed bricks, less well-known is that Michigan also has a few small scale cheesemakers turning out some very unique regional specialties. Some of these special cheeses include an amazing nutty and firm Raclette from Leelanau County and John Loomis’ incredible goat cheeses at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.

Although the world of cheese contains hundreds of varieties, at Morgan and York’s fabulous cheese class they teach that cheese falls into 6 main types of “recipes.” These categories are: 1) Fresh (like Fromage Frais or Mascarpone), 2) Soft (like Chevre or Mozzarella), 3) Washed rind (Munster, Epoisses), 4) Cooked curd (Comte, Gruyere), 5) Blue (Gorgonzola, Stilton), and 6) Hard (Cheddar, Piave). Each individual cheese is its own little ecosystem, with both good bacteria acting to create many of the nuanced flavors and forms of the cheese and bad bacteria that can be kept in check with cleanliness and the health of the good bacteria. Interestingly, there is a Michigan made cheese in each of the main categories of cheese except blue.

Cheese *IS* Milk

Because cheese *is* milk, concentrated 5-10 times in the process of cooking, pressing, and aging, the quality, treatment and taste of the milk that makes the cheese are paramount in the ultimate fullness and flavor of the finished cheese.

One of the main debates in Michigan and elsewhere around artisanal cheese is Continue reading Michigan Cheeses