Armed with a $600,000 grant, Michigan State University researchers will work alongside Latino migrant farmers to reshape how Michigan harvests fruit - and cultivate a new workforce.
According to MSU's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Latino farmers are changing the face of specialty fruit production by transitioning from employees on industrial farms to owning their own land. However, cultural, educational and regulatory roadblocks present challenges when it comes to finding long-term success.
David Mota-Sanchez, professor of entomology, will lead the project as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beginning Farmers program.
The USDA's most recent census data indicates that the number of young people entering farming continues to decline, but the number of new farmers over the age of 35, as well as the number of smaller farms and ranches, continue to rise. Mota-Sanchez and his team hope to harness these trends to continue growing smaller farms for Latino farmers, but reverse the census data as it relates to young farmers.
"Along with the training to help the farmers succeed in growing fruit, the project will highlight crop diversification options so that the growers can diversify their farms to increase their sustainability," Mota-Sanchez said.
This project is a collaborative effort between MSU's College of Natural Sciences, MSU Migrant Student Services, MSU Extension and its 4-H Youth Development Program, Telamon Corporation, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and COLPOS.
Mota-Sanchez and his team will work with Latino blueberry farmers in southwest Michigan to improve operations and farming practices. Some of the resources they will provide include training in pest and nutrient management, worker safety, food safety and farm business management.
The second part of Mota-Sanchez's project includes educating the next generation of Latino farmers, and ensuring that the culturally rooted farms have sustainable futures. Members of his team from 4-H will offer programming to train children of Latino farmers and laborers and those from non-farming backgrounds so they can experience the lifestyle and career firsthand.