May 15, 2008
Wanted: Vegetable Growers with Interesting Stories

Back in February 2005, I introduced myself to you, the readers of The Vegetable Growers News. I was a lowly staff writer then, and knew virtually nothing about what it takes to grow vegetables and fruit. I was “green” – not green in the hip, trendy, “my company isn’t polluting quite as much as it used to, so that makes us environmentally responsible,” way, but green in the “not mature or ripe; young; lacking sophistication or worldly experience; naïve,” way (my thanks to The American Heritage College Dictionary).

But I was OK with being green. I wouldn’t always be an agricultural neophyte. And as far as my title, I had always been a staff writer, so I didn’t know anything better. When you’ve spent your brief career on the bottom rung of the journalism ladder, working at small, weekly newspapers around Michigan, you come to accept a few important facts about your job: low pay, little prestige, a boring title and lots of fun.

Then I came here and had to learn about an entire industry from scratch. But what an industry: Growing produce turned out to be a lot more complicated and much more interesting than I ever imagined. My hat’s off to those who can make it work. Part of me envies you, but the other part of me couldn’t deal with the aggravation.

Anyway, about a year after I started, they made me an assistant editor. My responsibilities were basically the same, but for the first time in my career I was performing them with a fancy title. My chest puffed out a little.

That was nothing compared to the Schwarzenegger pec-jiggle I did when they named me managing editor. You might have noticed my new title in the last issue. I’m now responsible for all of the editorial content that goes into this magazine. That doesn’t mean I write it all, but I read it all and decide where it goes. The power is intoxicating.

But a judicious use of power requires knowledge. And though I’ve learned a lot about vegetable growing in the last few years, my education has just begun. I don’t have the intimate knowledge of heirloom tomatoes or leafy greens earned by the farmer who grew up with them or the researcher who studies them. I’m not yet old enough to experience a midlife crisis, where I walk away from modern society in my hemp sandals and start an organic farm somewhere in the wilderness (don’t be surprised if it happens one day).

Nope. I’m just a managing editor searching for a vision, and I need your help. My colleague Dick Lehnert is focusing The Fruit Growers News current content on mechanization. That’s a good idea, but does mechanization hold as much promise for vegetable growers as it does for fruit growers? I haven’t heard much.

Vegetable growers, what would you like to read about? What are the big challenges you’re facing? Labor is obvious, as is disease and insect pressure, weather, marketing, competition, imports. Should we dedicate the entire magazine to covering the looming threat from China? Investigate the pros and cons of NAFTA? Profile a researcher or Extension educator who’s had some kind of breakthrough?

Actually, we should write about all those things. I say “we,” because it’s not just me writing for this magazine. Dick Lehnert is still the assistant editor, and we have a new western editor: Alan Kandel. We still have columnists, researchers and others who contribute on a regular basis.

Consider The Vegetable Growers News an empty vessel. Help us fill it.

If you have ideas, call Matt Milkovich at 616-887-9008, ext. 102 or e-mail [email protected]

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