Dec 20, 2023
Michigan Vegetable Council’s proactive approach

As the Michigan Vegetable Council’s (MVC) president, Matt McCallum is delivering a new focus on research and advocacy for the Wolverine State’s vegetable industry.

McCallum, owner of Great American Media Services, which publishes Vegetable Growers News, wants MVC to confront industry challenges including escalating labor costs, expand Michigan State University research funding, and educate agriculture illiterate state lawmakers about the importance of Michigan’s vegetables.

Matt McCallum
Matt McCallum

“My goal is to work with the board members to come up with a plan to attack the vegetable industry’s biggest challenges,” McCallum said.

Early this year, MVC directors set goals, including becoming more politically active, strengthening relationships with MSU and considering ways to increase revenue to support advocacy and research. MVC employed the Kelley Cawthorne lobbying firm to represent member interests at the Capitol in Lansing.

The goal is to increase nonpartisan advocacy for the vegetable industry. With the Michigan Statehouse and senate changing party control, there are many new
lawmakers lacking ag backgrounds.

MSU research critical

Because of the urgency of issues pressing growers, MVC leaders believe a more proactive approach is necessary.

“MVC has been very clear with legislators that MSU funding for ag is crucial to the industry,” McCallum said. “You have to be at the table at all times. There
is a lot of noise in politics and you have to make sure you are consistently reaching the right people with the right message.”

MVC organized its first-ever roundtable discussion involving 25 MSU
faculty and department heads in March. The MVC board learned that startup
costs for new research positions are $250,000 to $1 million. The
cost of a graduate student to help in research projects is $50,000. As
veteran researchers near retirement, universities are challenged finding strong
candidates and must provide competitive compensation and resources.

An immediate common goal from the meeting is to help lobby for additional
research funding beyond the state’s Project GREEEN (Generating Research
and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), which produces industry-driven research to enhance plant agriculture.

For 25 years, Project GREEN funding has remained stagnant at $5.6 million. To fortify research, MSU is requesting $16 million initially with $10 million recurring to fund the initiative, which will support talent and faculty gaps along with a new competitive grants program. A new initiative, Solving Emerging Environmental Developments and Securing Sustainability (SEEDSS),
prioritizes soil and plant health, water quantity and quality, and precision technologies.

At a Michigan plant coalition committee meeting discussing SEEDSS, MVC connected with more than a dozen legislators, making specific contact between one senator and a key grower in that senator’s district. MVC members provided literature during successful legislative office visits.

“We found out very quickly that both groups (SEEDSS and Project GREEN) are passionate about serving the vegetable industry and making it more robust,” McCallum said. “They need our help in expressing the importance of on-campus research and labs to the MSU administration. It was very beneficial to sit in one room across from each other having an open and honest discussion. Now we understand each other to a much deeper level and have built a much stronger relationship.”

MVC has long supported vegetable crop research and education through grant funding originating from annual operating funds, as well as from the Michigan Vegetable Council Fund, its endowed research and education fund. Additionally, MVC was successful in obtaining Specialty Crop Block Grant funding of $306,100 over the last three years.

Michigan Vegetable Council MVCIn addition to helping fill MSU research and Extension positions through funding, MVC has participated in search committees that oversaw the hiring of two vegetable-specific Extension educator positions in southeast and eastern Michigan.

For two decades, donations from industry suppliers have helped MVC fund scholarships of university students pursuing careers in the vegetable industry. To fund the increased advocacy and research needs, McCallum wants to increase MVC’s revenue through relationships with university and ag and related groups.

MVC is funded by Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO proceeds as well as MSU’s Project GREEN grants and Specialty Crop Block Grants administered through MVC, which total $150,000 a year.

Increased outreach

MVC wants to enhance vegetable industry advocacy with the state legislature, the governor and governmental departments including the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

MVC also works with the Michigan Farm Bureau, the Michigan Ag Council, the Michigan AgriBusiness Association and the Michigan IPM Alliance as well as national groups including the Minor Crop Farm Alliance and the National Council of Agricultural Employers.

Relationships with those groups are strong, McCallum said. He points to the work done by MVC executive director Greg Bird, who is in close communication with
members of the groups to collaborate on challenges.

For the first time ever MVC organized spring tours of asparagus and pickle farms involving house and senate ag committee and subcommittee members without ag backgrounds or longstanding ag industry relationships to learn more about Michigan’s vegetable industry.

Legislators were invited to the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO.

“Greg Bird is an excellent executive director and a great asset,” McCallum said. “He has been able to build some strong relationships and help develop the GLEXPO into a stronger event. The industry is very lucky to have such a strong leader.”

Working alongside a diverse group of board members from all industry sectors who bring commitment, perspective, business savvy and leadership to the table,
McCallum said It’s his job to cultivate and harness this resource to help MVC members.

“We have made great strides in less than 10 months,” he said. “I’ve been on the board over 25 years and our board is the strongest it has ever been.”

Family farm

McCallum grew up on a family fruit and vegetable farm with a farm market in Jeddo, Michigan, north of Port Huron. After high school, McCallum was a U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Liberty, formerly Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, and stationed in Korea at Camp Casey. He earned a journalism degree and an ag economics minor at MSU.

Great American Media Services


McCallum and his father Marvin co-owned McCallum’s Orchard where he worked growing up and after college. The farm, which opened in 1932, remains in operation under other ownership. A retired Methodist minister, Marvin, 87, runs a small u-pick operation that grows peaches, blackberries, raspberries and
blueberries called Marvin’s Gardens near the original family farm.

In 1993, Matt McCallum purchased Great American Media Services from Barry Brand, who he met while on an MSU Extension eastern Michigan farm market tour when McCallum was working on the farm and for a daily newspaper. Brand had founded the Great Lakes Fruit Growers News and the Great Lakes Vegetable Growers News publications in the 1960s.

McCallum soon changed the focus from regional to national, renaming the publications Fruit Growers News and Vegetable Growers News. He added other
publications and divisions over the years including Spudman, Organic Grower, National Nut Grower, Produce Processing and Greenhouse Product News magazines and websites. The company also expanded into the sports and retail markets and now serves 1.2 million readers.

— Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor

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