Feb 18, 2009
Leader of Two Major Vegetable Councils Tackles Industry Issues

Dave Miedema has his hands full. The new president of the Michigan Vegetable Council also is the president of the Leafy Greens Council.

Dave, 58, was named president of MVC in January. He can serve two one-year terms.

A fresh-market vegetable grower in Byron Center, Mich., Dave is aware of the challenges facing his industry and his state. His biggest concern right now is the economic sustainability of farms. Increased competition and rising input costs are pinching bottom lines.

“I’ve never seen input cost increases like we saw last year,” he said. “The question is, how can we recover costs and still make produce affordable?”

Keeping fresh produce affordable is more important than ever. Thanks to the current economic climate, chain stores have been buying more frozen and canned and less fresh produce. Dave and other fresh-market growers have to figure out the best ways to promote their products in that environment.

Dave runs E. Miedema & Sons Inc. with his brother, Ken. The farm grows roughly 1,400 acres of vegetables – mainly sweet corn, cabbage and squash – destined for chain stores, terminal markets and foodservice institutions across the Midwest and South. The farm also brokers, year round, produce from Florida, Georgia and New York, to keep its customers’ shelves stocked 12 months of the year.

The growers field-pack their zucchini and cabbage and shed-pack and hydrocool their sweet corn and winter squash. Many of the new supersweet varieties of sweet corn are sensitive to bruising and must be picked by hand, Dave said.

Dave’s grandfather started the Miedema farm in the 1930s. Dave and Ken bought the farm from their father, Elmer, several years ago. Dave’s three sons, Jeremy, Tim and Joel, work on the farm, along with Ken’s sons Ryan and Jeff and another nephew, Kurt. Dave’s wife Sally does the bookkeeping. A couple of other employees round out the full-time workforce. They hire up to 100 seasonal workers during harvest, Dave said.

“Farming has really changed since I’ve been in it,” Dave said. “It’s not just growing produce and selling it anymore.”

Dave served on the Michigan Vegetable Council’s board for several years in the 1980s before joining up again about a year ago, when the previous president, Vic Shank, asked him to be vice president. He was a little reluctant a year later, when other members of the board asked him if he wanted to be MVC’s president, but he saw no reason to turn the offer down – even though he already was president of the Leafy Greens Council.

LGC, a national organization, works to promote healthy eating habits and the consumption of leafy greens. Dave, currently in his second year as president of LGC, hasn’t found leading two councils to be too much of a burden – so far. As long as he can set some time aside every week for phone calls and attend a few meetings a year, he should stay on top of things.

The president of two councils said his industry is grappling with a lot of issues right now, including labor, food safety, traceability, water, the cost of land and the politics of farming in general. Communication among industry groups is important – everyone has to be aware of potential problems and must work together to head them off before they reach consumers, he said.

As for Michigan, Dave would like to see his home state have more of a presence at national conventions.

“Michigan has a lot more to offer,” he said. “It’s not represented the way it should be.”

Regarding the latest Farm Bill, Dave is glad it’s promoting more fruits and vegetables, but he doesn’t see why produce should have to compete for land with subsidized commodity crops.

“Supply and demand should dictate markets,” he said. “I don’t see why you need supports for field corn and grains.”

He’s wary of the recent changeover in the federal government.

“It’s a bit scary for me,” he said. “If the government funds universal health care, how are small businesses going to pay for that?”

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