Even though it’s only February, it’s been a pretty good year for agriculture.
Wait, wait: Don’t stop reading yet. I know many of you are thinking, “Farming? Cows? Boring!” But this farming stuff is really important in Michigan. And in the past couple of months, Michigan agriculture has finally started to get some of the recognition it deserves.
Farming is our state’s second-largest industry following the automotive industry. The agriculture industry employs more than 1 million people statewide and generates about $60 billion in economic activity, according to the Michigan State University Product Center. Michigan produces huge quantities of high-quality asparagus, blueberries, black, red and navy beans, apples and carrots, among a variety of other valuable crops. Michigan’s big claim to fame is cherries. The state produces about 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture.
In a move that had champions of agriculture like me cheering, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder recognized agriculture’s importance in his first annual State of the State address on Jan. 19. He asked the state Legislature to add agricultural processing to the 21st Century Jobs Fund, a government-based initiative started in 2005 by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It’s designed to “strengthen and diversify Michigan’s economic base by fostering the creation and growth of new jobs, new businesses and new industries” through private investments, according to its website. If the Legislature agrees, the fund will invest more money in creating agriculture jobs in Michigan.
It’s encouraging to hear Snyder recognize the importance of agriculture to the state — it’s far too often that people focused on Michigan’s automotive industry ignore the economic powerhouse that employs about 24 percent of the state’s population, according to the MSU Product Center. Investing in a growing industry that’s already successful is simply smart business. And Snyder is, if nothing else, a shrewd businessman.
But Snyder’s nod to the agricultural industry wasn’t the only good news for Michigan farmers. Fans of the recently-canceled Michigan State Fair also got some good news earlier this month.
Granholm gave the State Fair’s public funding the ax in 2009. Without the funding, the fair wasn’t able to get off the ground in 2009 or 2010. There was talk of leasing the state fairgrounds located in Detroit to other organizations, but those plans fell through. Despite its importance, it looks like Michigan’s historic State Fair perished for good at age 160.
I lamented the loss of the State Fair last year ((Agri)cultural celebration, 04/05/2010). Agriculture is a significant part of Michigan’s identity, and it deserves recognition on a state level. The State Fair provided that recognition. When it died, an already under-appreciated industry slipped a little further into the background.
I also argued that if Michigan agricultural organizations worked together to raise private funds to sponsor the event, they could probably bring the State Fair back to life. I was only half right.
In early February, a coalition of agriculture-based groups announced that they have banded together to create a replacement for the State Fair: The Great Lakes Agricultural Fair. The Agricultural Fair would host traditional fair events such as a farmer’s market and animal judging. Organizers also plan to include concerts from a variety of genres and other family-friendly entertainment like traditional fair rides.
The group sponsoring the event, which is made up of Michigan politicians and businessmen, still needs to finish brokering deals with entertainment acts and hammering out other details. But it looks like everything is moving along smoothly. The event is scheduled to be held at the Silverdome in Pontiac — which was formerly the home of the Detroit Lions — Sept. 2 through 5, according to a Feb. 7 Detroit News article. The article said Grant Reeves, general manager of the Silverdome, hopes to draw more than 80,000 people to the event. One-day admission tickets are expected to cost only $8 for adults — not an unreasonable price.
The prospect of a State Fair substitute is wonderful. Much of Michigan is rural, though the woes of Detroit discussed in the news often make us forget that. It’s only right to take the time to come together to celebrate this very important part of our state’s culture. The Agricultural Fair won’t be the same as the State Fair — but it’s close enough.
Agriculture is a defining aspect of our state, and it’s about time that it got some of the recognition it deserves.
Rachel Van Gilder was the Daily’s editorial page editor in 2010. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.