NRCS-Michigan Newsletter

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USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

NRCS-Michigan Conservation Notes Newsletter  -  November/December 2022

State Conservationist's Message

NRCS Michigan State Conservationist Garry Lee

State Conservationist Garry Lee

As we wind down the year 2022, a feeling of normalcy is starting to set in. NRCS began participating in public events like the Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Grand Rapids and staff have met together, in-person, for various meetings and training events. While the workplace may be permanently changed, it at least is feeling more normal.

At NRCS-Michigan we are already well into the new fiscal year 2023. Application cut-off dates for many of our programs have already come and gone. We do expect more conservation opportunities for Michigan growers after the new calendar year begins so stay tuned. Here I will echo the sentiments of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack that he delivered to USDA employees last week.

“We extend our sincere thanks for your continued collaboration, cooperation, and support over the past year. Each of you helps USDA achieve our common goals – ensuring the health and safety of the American people, improving services and operations, and implementing the priorities of our democratically elected government. You are the foundation of this Department, and your continued, active civic engagement contributes significantly to the progress and advancement of our department and our nation.”
– Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

I greatly look forward to working our NRCS-Michigan employees, partners, and producers in 2023. I hope all of you have the opportunity to greet the New Year with your friends and family, Happy New Year!

New City Neighbors Bring Fresh Veges and Pizza to its GR Neighborhood

New City Cafe Coordinator Luke De Haan shows an apple dessert pizza about to placed in the cafe's woodburning oven.

New City Neighbors, the Grand Rapids non-profit that operates New City Farm, had a big year in 2022. The organization purchased property in its Creston Neighborhood home that includes more growing space and an existing house that it converted into a year-round home for its New City Café.

The café and farm both serve the mission of New City Neighbors which is providing employment, training, and leadership skills to young people. The café was formerly operated outside of a nearby church where New City also has one of its gardens. With an in-door location, the café stayed open through the first half of December instead of closing in September as it has previous years.

“We’re a really well-oiled machine,” said Café Coordinator Luke De Haan.

De Haan worked at a bakery and has a background in community organizing and oversees eight high school-aged employees who operate the café. New City Café is open every Thursday in season, and offers soups, salads, baked goods, and pizzas, cooked in the café’s outdoor woodburning ovens. The café is a place for young people to earn money and develop job skills.

“I would hire anyone here if I owned a private business,” De Haan said of his café staff.

New City Farm employs about an additional dozen young people who work at its original garden in the Creston Neighborhood and the one-acre garden at the new “Farmhouse” location. New City Farm operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with about 250 families subscribed for weekly produce shares including whatever produce is being harvested that week.

New City Farm got a boost in starting its new garden at the Farmhouse site through a grant it received through the USDA People’s Garden Program. New City utilized a portion of the funding to install a well at the new site. Native plants for pollinator habitat were installed at the location with assistance provided by the Xerces Society in partnership with the People’s Garden program.

New City Farm provides produce to its CSA subscribers but also to several area food pantries and the café. Most of the pizzas and soups the café sells have at least one ingredient raised on the farm. Each week, De Haan and his staff plan the café’s menu with input from the farm staff. The café’s pizza nights are held at the same time that CSA members pick up their weekly produce shares, making it convenient for them to pick up a pizza, soup, or other café items.

Sierra West-Smith is New City’s Neighborhood Engagement Coordinator, she graduated from high school in 2020. She began working for New City when she was 14 and has worked there ever since, except for one year when programs were put on pause due to Covid. Working at New City allowed her to save money for college and learn new skills.

West-Smith now has experience managing employees, organizing events, and bookkeeping. She began working for New City full-time in 2022 while attending Grand Rapids Community College. She is studying social work and hopes to work with formerly incarcerated people transitioning back into the community. Working at New City helped her build her resume and is more fulfilling than being a cog in a machine, said West-Smith. “It’s a good place to be.”

Waishkey Bay Farm set to Grow

Waishkey Bay Farm Manager Kat Jaques stands in front of the farm's beef cattle herd.

The 40-acre Waishkey Bay Farm serves as a local food producer, research facility, and educational resource for Bay Mills Community College and the Bay Mills Indian Community in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. With the recent purchase of an additional 200 acres, the farm’s impact should only continue to grow.

There was significant community support for the expansion of the farm, said Steve Yanni, Land Grant Director for the college. The newly acquired land was originally a dairy farm and was purchased by the college from a single family.

Bay Mills Community College (BMCC) is one of three 1994 Land Grant Colleges in Michigan along with Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College in Mt. Pleasant and Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe Community College in Baraga. BMCC started Waishkey Bay Farm about 10 years ago with a focus on teaching, research, and serving as an incubator for sustainable agriculture “consistent with Anishinaabek values.” The farm started out with a community garden and its only building was a used trailer provided by the U.S. Forest Service, said Yanni.

Today the farm has three full-time tribal employees including Farm Manager Kat Jaques. The college built new buildings on the farm including classrooms and a kitchen facility. The agricultural operation has also grown beyond a community garden. The farm now includes a beef grazing operation, an apiary, pastured chickens, and a high tunnel system. NRCS has played a role in the farm’s expansion, providing financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for the farm’s high tunnel, (which was damaged by high winds in 2022) and fencing and watering facilities for the farm’s prescribed grazing operation.

Waishkey Bay Farm’s herdshare program, which allows tribal members to purchase beef quarters and halves from the farm’s 12-head herd, is popular. The program gives first priority to tribal elders and then to other members, said Jaques. Once the sale was opened to non-elders there was someone waiting at the door to order. The farm purchases steers locally and then raises them to harvest size. Grazing cattle is a learning experience for Jaques who came to BMCC after working for the Michigan State University Extension Service but had no experience with cattle.

Due to the success of the farm’s herdshare program, Jaques anticipates a portion of the new farm property to be used for additional grazing. The community expressed in interest in raising buffalo and the college is determining if that is feasible.

In addition to producing food, the farm also has education and research components. Non-credit workshops, compared to certificate or degree courses, are the most popular at the farm, said Yanni. The farm offers courses on food processing, including canning fruits, vegetables, and venison. Other workshops include learning about traditional plants, and shelves with containers of traditional medicinal plants line the walls at the farm. Cultural and social events are also hosted at the farm including community potlucks and wreath making workshops.

On the research side, BMCC is conducting a research project on industrial hemp in partnership with Michigan State University and Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College. Hemp was grown at Waishkey Bay Farm and other locations to help determine the crop’s viability. In addition to adding land, the farm is also looking into new facilities including a manure storage facility and a composting facility that may also be used to compost fish waste. As the farm grows the college will continue to monitor the needs of the community.

“It’s a big expansion,” said Jaques.

Xerces Society News

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Early in 2023, the Xerces Society will launch a project to provide beneficial insect kits to producers in the Detroit Metro area. A formal announcement is expected in late January with a request for proposals, kits containing plants should be available by early June.

The kits are to be used by historically underserved urban agricultural producers and community gardeners to create or enhance monarch, pollinator, and other beneficial insects (e.g. predatory beetles, syrphid flies, solitary wasps, lacewings) habitat on working lands or in community spaces. The kits will include a diverse mix of native plants (forbs, grasses, and shrubs), suitable for the Detroit region and urban soils. A one size kit (~ 300 square feet) will be available that focuses on dry to medium and moist soils and areas with full to part sun. For more information go to

The Xerces Society

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.

The organization's name (which is pronounced Zer-sees, or /ˈzɚˌsiz/) comes from the now-extinct Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities. The Xerces blue's habitat was destroyed by development in the sand dunes of San Francisco, and the species was declared extinct by the 1940s.

Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Specialist  Steganie Steele

Meet Stefanie Steele

Stefanie is the Xerces Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Underserved Communities and a NRCS Partner Biologist in the Upper Midwest – Detroit area. Through this work, she provides technical assistance, planning, and education on incorporating pollinator and other beneficial invertebrate habitat in small urban agricultural areas and community gardens in historically excluded communities. Her work supports projects including the Xerces Habitat Kit Program, People’s Garden Initiative, and NRCS Conservation Programs through the USDA Farm Bill.  

Stefanie received a master’s degree in biology from Portland State University where she studied the nesting habits of cavity nesting bees and wasps in the Portland, Ore. area and completed a multi-year study surveying the solitary bees in Portland’s urban core and their floral use. Since graduating, she has worked on numerous research projects studying diverse bee communities, and she has a deep knowledge of the taxonomy and ecology of native bees. While in Portland, Stefanie worked with several urban gardens, orchards, farms, and restoration areas to help incorporate pollinator habitat in these spaces. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Stefanie has a strong knowledge of the Upper Midwest local plant communities and is excited to be back working with urban communities in the Midwest.

No-Interest Microloans offered to NW Michigan Producers

A partnership in Northwest Michigan is offering no-interest microloans to agricultural producers in 12 counties.

The partnership, including Grain Train Natural Foods Markets, Oryana Community Co-op, and Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology, is accepting applications for loans of between $500 and $10,000.  Applications for the microloans will be accepted through Feb. 7, 2023. The loans are available to producers in Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, Otsego, and Wexford counties.

The loans are available to existing agricultural producers and applicants interested in starting a new farm or food business. For more information, including a link for submitting an application, go to

Employee Updates

New Employees

Rose Lake Plant Materials Center Agronomist Elisa Lauritzen

Elisa Lauritzen – PMC Agronomist, Rose Lake PMC

Last Position: Plant Pathologist, State College, Pa.
Hometown: Mapleton, Utah
Education: M.S. Biology/Plant Pathology – Utah State University, B.S. Horticulture – Utah State University
Family: Ben (spouse), A.J., Sarah and Miriam (progeny), Pierce (ferocious canine that lives with us), Jack and Hela (two
obnoxious felines we like…love)
Hobbies & Interests: Gardening, traveling, music, reading, gourmet cooking, ciders and perrys, plants and plant pathology

Natural Resource Specialist Kaitlyn Vaux

Kaitlyn Vaux – Natural Resource Specialist-Biologist, Stephenson

Last Position: Natural Resource Specialist-Biologist, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Home Town: Otter Creek, Maine
Education: B.Sc. in Biology - Saint Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia; M.Sc. in Conservation Ecology - University of Michigan
Family: fiancé (Dan), sisters (Molly and Hannah), parents (Jane and Peter)
Hobbies & Interests: swimming, camping, hiking, skiing, cooking

Staff Updates

Amber Brannick - Civil Engineer, Mason (formerly civil engineering technician East Lansing)

Madeleine Cantu - Outreach Coordinator, East Lansing (formerly district conservationist Sault Ste. Marie)

Conservation Calendar

Upcoming Events


4 - Learning Exchange Series: Tax Dimensions of Forest Carbon Projects, 3 to 4 p.m., Virtual via Zoom, for more information go to

9 - Plant Quest 2023, 6 - 7:15 p.m. on Mondays, for more information and to register go to

12 - Cultivate Michigan Marketplace in Kalamazoo, 4 - 6 p.m., Kalamazoo Valley Community College - Kalamazoo, for more information go to


1 - Southwest Michigan Horticultural Days, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Lake Michigan College Mendel Center - Benton Harbor, for more information go to

7 & 8 - 23rd Annual MPFC Meeting and 9th Burning Issues Workshop, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Camp Grayling - Grayling, for more information go

11 - Backyard Syrup Making, 10 a.m. to noon, Four Green Fields - Rodney, for more information call 989/309-9229 or email

20 - 54th annual Branch County Farmer's Day, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dearth Community Center - Coldwater, for more information go to

27 - Dealing with Heavy Rainfall in a Changing Climate, 9 - 10 a.m., Virtual via Zoom, for more information go to

27 - Recommendations for Improving Irrigation Water Use Efficiency, 11 a.m. to noon, Virtual via Zoom, for more information go to

28 - Making the Most of Drones in Agriculture, 8 to 9 a.m., Virtual via Zoom, for more information go to

28 - Forage Production 101, 9 to 11 a.m., Virtual via Zoom, for more information go to

28 - Designing cropping systems for healthier soils, improved biodiversity, and more profit, 10 to 11 a.m., Virtual via Zoom, for more information go to


10 - Backyard Apple Tree Pruning Demonstration, 3 to 5 p.m., 4631 12 Mile Rd. - Remus, for more information call 989/309-9229 or email


USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Michigan State Office
3001 Coolidge Road, Suite 250
East Lansing, MI 48823

Phone: 517-324-5270