Michigan Supplies Rich Variety of Produce

Michigan ranks second only to California in its agricultural diversity, and retailers look to Michigan to provide locally grown produce, especially apples in the fall (and year-round!).

A unique climate along the Great Lakes, combined with nutrient-rich soil, create the ideal environment for growing fresh produce.

Originally printed in the June 2023 issue of Produce Business.

With highly favorable climate and soil, Michigan farms and orchards produce a sizable array of fruits and vegetables.

The top vegetables ranked by value in the 2022 State Agriculture Overview lists potatoes; cucumbers; squash; cabbage; snap beans; asparagus; bell peppers; and pumpkins. But the entire range of vegetables produced is so great, Michigan ranks second only to California in its agricultural diversity.

Applewood Fresh Growers, Sparta, MI, reports seeing more interest in tote bags for apples, as another option over bulk displays.

Beyond the fresh market, Michigan is the largest producing state for cucumbers for pickling and potatoes for chipping. Still, the fresh market enjoys cabbage; carrots; celery; green beans; onions; peppers; pumpkins; radishes; sweet corn; tomatoes; turnips; and more, in addition to the cucumbers, potatoes and asparagus.

Potatoes — Fresh and Chips

Potato chips demand 70% of Michigan’s potato production, but Michigan packers ship fresh russets, yellows, whites, reds and some specialty potatoes for the fresh market, according to Zeke Jennings, marketing and communications manager of the Michigan Potato Industry. Russets make up about three-quarters of the fresh market.

“With the Michigan potato industry so geared toward the chipping industry, round white potatoes are grown more prominently here than in other regions of the U.S.,” Jennings explains.

At Kitchen Farms Inc. in Elmira, MI, Don Kitchen grows table stock potatoes on 1,200 acres. Typically, he supplies potatoes from November through June, but “every year is different,” he says, reflecting on the weather. Russets are Kitchen Farms’ top seller, yellow and reds next, then whites, and “the fresh market is growing every year,” he reports.

Jennings calls attention to the Potato Growers of Michigan’s materials for grocers in-store uses and social media posts that promote potato health benefits.


Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board executive director Jamie Clover Adams explains how weather affects the six- to eight-week crop. “If it causes the plants to grow too fast, the quality is not what you want. We had a good summer and fall last year that helped fern development. That focused on more full tips.”

Asparagus growers are using newer varieties, which are superior than those commonly used 20 years ago. Good cuts and tips are better. Importantly, the climate and soils in Michigan produce quality, Adams says.

“Michigan is unique. Other areas do not have that opportunity,” she adds. “Our asparagus is grown on sandy loam on the Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s a good fit for that kind of soil.”

This season, the advisory board’s promotional ads highlight demonstrations, in-store signs and digital ads to feature the fresh flavor taste.

“We’ll use whatever tactics works for the retailer’s customers,” Adams says.


“Michigan’s unique climate, with warm summer days and cool nights, combined with nutrient-rich soil and our proximity to the Great Lakes, create the ideal climate for growing flavorful, quality apples,” says Diane Smith, executive director, Michigan Apple Committee, Lansing. “Nearly year-round availability on most varieties ensures a steady supply of fresh Michigan-grown apples to our customers.”

The largest selling apple in the U.S., Gala, has Michigan’s largest volume. Michigan Honeycrisp apples also have a huge following. “Consumer panels conducted by independent research panels show in 15 out of 18 studies, Michigan Honeycrisp ranking No. 1 in taste and appearance compared to other growing regions,” Smith reports.

“EverCrisp is gaining popularity season after season as a late-season variety that stores well and maintains great quality,” she adds. “Many newer-managed varieties, such as SweeTango and Smitten among others emerging, are also grown in Michigan.”

Smith says the apple committee tailors its promotional programs to fit retailers’ needs and goals. “We work hand in hand with retailers’ marketing departments and category managers to utilize their omnichannel platforms with the goal of increasing sales and creating awareness around Michigan apples. We can create custom signage, social media content, digital ads and more, depending on how each individual retail partner prefers to reach their customers.”

Smith notes Michigan apples are available in 32 states, and Michigan apples are exported to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.


Applewood Fresh Growers, Sparta, with its network of family-run growers, spans 11,000 acres of prime apple growing land. It directly loads containers, offers transportation options and assures international exporting protocol.

Shelby Babcock, marketing and sales specialist, says Michigan’s sunny days and cool nights aid the crisp bite and complex flavor of apples. Plus, the Great Lakes helps the nutrient-dense soil and protects them from various weather patterns.

For their forthcoming crop, Brian Coates, vice president, says some of the cold weather in April does not appear to have had a major impact. “General expectations are that this coming season could be similar to this past season’s record crop and that will become more of the norm for the Michigan crop, barring any weather impacts. Of course, we still have a lot of time in the growing season to get through.”

For promotion efforts, Babcock says in-store demos are making their comeback while digital demos and online tactics stay in place. “We have added the single-sleeve apple cover for sampling and giveaways for Evercrisp and SweeTango to help customers experience the power of great flavor firsthand.”

“Recipes with specific in-store products, influencer outreach and collaboration, and having a steady, relevant platform consumers can count on for content, education and entertainment is the strategy for boosting fresh apple consumption.”

Applewood offers customized signage to fit the store’s brand. Babcock says, “From infographics to our grower stories, add a personal aspect for more appeal.” She also suggests explaining the flavor profile of each apple.

Coates says packaging seems to be adjusting back to bulk, but says bags are still seeing increases over pre-pandemic numbers. “Pouch bags continue to be popular with branded and premium varieties, and we have seen more interest in tote bags as another option over bulk.”


Retailers look to Michigan to provide locally grown produce. “We pride ourselves on supporting local growers when in season and grown locally,” says Sarah Urbani, marketing director, Joe Randazzo’s Fruit and Vegetable Market, Detroit. “Our produce is constantly being freshly stocked throughout the day. Our handwritten signs give an open market feel.”

The four retail store locations in Detroit, Roseville, Dearborn Heights and Westland all offer home delivery. In addition, Urbani says, “we have a wholesale department which delivers to hundreds of restaurants and markets in the metro Detroit area. We are currently expanding our wholesale delivery department at our flagship location to keep up with our high demand.”

To promote Michigan produce, Urbani says stores began writing on homemade signs “Michigan produce.” “That helps customers to easily shop local as well as create the open-air produce market feel.”

Potato spokesperson Jennings says Michigan consumers seem to have a lot of pride that Michigan agriculture is an agriculturally diverse state. “They like to buy Michigan fresh produce when they can.”

In Detroit, produce foodies can frequent an 1891 market, the Eastern Market. This historical market receives $36 to $40 million a year from Michigan, Ohio and Ontario shoppers, and operates both wholesale and retail.

Modern docks and refrigeration are currently being planned. CEO Dan Carmody reports that, with funding from the state of Michigan, “We hope to have a cold chain compliance facility sometime next year.”

“Local produce is very important to the customer,” says Jordan Grainger, vice president of sales and business development for Ben B. Schwartz & Sons, Detroit, a wholesale distributor on the Detroit Produce Terminal.

“Still, the most important thing to the consumer is a great quality product to leave the consumer wanting more.”


The latest Census of Agriculture states vegetables are grown on over 3,000 farms in Michigan. Many are grown on 15 acres or less, but most of Michigan’s vegetable production is on farms growing more than 100 acres.

An informal survey of the farms reveals that many operations reach back several generations. With expansions toward partnerships in other regions and adherence to the original farming philosophy, specializing with their core vegetable is often apparent.

Rice Lake Farms, located in Grant, MI, exemplifies such a grower, packer and shipper. Its premier crop, parsnips, heads the features, and its muck soil gives Rice Lake Farms’ radishes a whiter appearance. Turnips; red, gold and candy-striped beets; onions; acorn, buttercup, spaghetti and butternut squash; and late season jumbo carrots are now packaged rather than delivered in bulk.

“We pack everything as if it’s organic and use shipping and packaging products that are organically certified according to Omri.org standards,” says Rick Sible, sales and market development manager. “We are eco-friendly — 100% of plastics and cardboard are recycled. No harsh chemicals are used anywhere on our farm or packing.”

Sible remarks, “The restaurant industry is always looking for something unique. I tell customers how I personally use the less common products, such as rutabagas. Our watermelon radishes are new. They make fancy garnishes.”

“Quality of produce is very biased based on who is looking at the product,” says Grainger. “When we look at produce, we are looking for different characteristics for different items. Color, texture, ripeness, flavor, count and brix level are some qualities we are looking for when we are inspecting our produce.”

“The 2023 vegetable crop seems to be off to a great start,” says Greg Bird, executive director, Michigan Vegetable Council, Lansing. “Michigan is poised to another great crop this year.”

From a wholesaler’s point of view, Grainger says inflation has caused many items to increase in costs, also due to labor and supply chain issues. Those supply chain difficulties and the labor situation have also changed distribution.

“It has pushed for everyone to find efficiencies in the supply chain and work more creatively. On the flip side, the produce supply chain has always had many different variables. These variables cause the produce industry to constantly be solving supply chain issues.”