MSU Extension educators in commercial food systems Garrett Ziegler and Kendra Wills will be educating consumers, vendors and food entrepreneurs in the Indoor Market Hall of Downtown Market, which is set to open Labor Day weekend. Photo by Charlsie Dewey
Members of the Michigan State University Extension program are preparing to move into their new office within the Indoor Market Hall when it opens at Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market Labor Day weekend. The program will offer services and classes for both vendors and shoppers.
Kendra Wills, extension educator/commercial food systems, said that she expects to offer food safety classes such as canning classes and a class on cooking for crowds, as well as classes on vegetable and fruit production and disease and pesticide management for market vendors and other food production and service employees in the area.
“It will be a convenient location for them,” she said.
In addition to classes, vendors and entrepreneurs working in food production also will have access to the MSU Product Center through Downtown Market. The Product Center helps Michigan entrepreneurs develop and commercialize high-value, consumer-responsive products and businesses in the agriculture, natural resources and bio-economy sectors.
“The MSU Product Center is charged with the mission of helping agri-based and food-based businesses get started, with business plans or basically anywhere along that kind of business-development spectrum that a business might be,” explained Garrett Ziegler, extension educator/commercial-based food systems. “They can contact the Product Center and get assistance or counseling. We are going to have a Product Center employee in our office here one or two days a week.”
Wills added the MSU food lab also will be made available to those seeking services from the Product Center. She was not sure if the lab services would be offered free or at a discount, but said it would certainly be less than seeking the service from a private entity.
“They can use the food lab on campus to do the nutritional testing for the labeling, so the calorie count, sugar count — all that — can come from the lab on campus.”
Wills said that entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of the Product Center in the past have had success in getting financing approved for their businesses.
Product Center services are provided by appointment to help ensure confidentiality.
Shoppers will be able to seek out more information about the products being sold by the farmers and vendors at Downtown Market, which Wills and Ziegler hope will encourage people to try new fruit and vegetable items.
“We have a new educational material campaign called Michigan Fresh. … We have 45 different fact sheets on different fruits and vegetables,” Wills said. “The idea is to teach people how to store them, how to preserve them — freezing and canning, and then give people a recipe for what to use it for.
“We are hoping this helps people feel more comfortable about buying kohlrabi, eggplant and kale — stuff that they don’t usually buy. That is one statewide educational campaign with a whole package of materials.”
Wills said they are considering formulating an educational program around Michigan chestnuts and other unique Michigan products.
“Consumers might not know that Michigan has chestnuts and there is a brand-new flour product that they are making out of chestnuts, which is gluten free, and then they are making pasta out of this,” she explained. “It is a gluten-free product, from Michigan chestnuts, processed in Michigan — it is a cool product. There will be educational campaigns like that to introduce consumers.”
Current classes for vendors and other food service and production professionals include:
- An eight-hour ServSafe class on Aug. 12 was offered to those who are certified as a food protection manager. It provided food service workers with updated information needed to pass the ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification Exam for recertification. Following completion of the course, participants take the examination.
- Cooking for Crowds, noon-3 p.m. Oct. 9, is an educational program for nonprofit groups that prepare food for members or for the general public as fundraisers. The curriculum is designed to show groups the food safety risks that can develop when cooking larger volumes of food.
- How to Start a Successful Cottage Food Business in Michigan, 1-3 p.m. Nov. 7. The class combines business and food safety aspects of preparing and selling cottage foods, what foods can be legally produced, and how to label and sell them.
The MSU Extension program was derived from the agreement made by all land grant universities to the government upon accepting the land grant in the 1800s to disseminate the knowledge of the university throughout their communities and to help address community needs.
See the MSU Extension website at msue.anr.msu.edu for more information about services, programs and class fees. Visit the Facebook page.