Traverse City Record-Eagle

the BIZ

March 19, 2014

Glenn Puit: Seeding the local ag economy

TRAVERSE CITY — This spring is experiment time for Mark Moseler.

The proprietor of the 18-month-old Northern Latitudes Distillery in Leelanau County wants to make his alcohol with as many locally grown products as possible. That idea led Moseler to contact some Leelanau County farmers to see if they can cultivate a barley that meets Moseler’s high standards for his liquor.

“Slowly but surely I do as much as I possibly can with local Michigan products,” Moseler said. “My wheat vodka -- I get all my wheat from Michigan. My sugar beets I use are from Michigan. For my gin, it’s local botanicals.”

Grand Traverse Distillery, featured in our story today about high state taxes on liquor makers, is doing the same with local products. The business bought more than 1 million pounds of Michigan-grown grain to make its spirits.

“One hundred percent of the wheat, rye, and corn we use is grown on a farm about 10 miles from here,” said distillery founder Kent Rabish. “The only product I buy that’s not Michigan-grown is malted barley. I only need it for certain products.”

It’s a big deal, this trend among northern Michigan manufacturers who turn to local farms for product instead of importing. Craft beer makers, distillers, wineries, restaurants and food processors are leading the charge, fermenting a steady drip of commerce that trickles from one business to another. Consider:

Hops -- The crop used to flavor and stabilize beer is in increasing demand in the Grand Traverse region, given the explosion of craft brewers in the Traverse City area. Empire Orchards Hops Farm in Leelanau County installed infrastructure to grow and manage a combined 118 acres of hops off Frederickson Road. The growth in hops also helps other businesses climb into the market. Brian Tennis operates the Michigan Hops Alliance, which is seeing a spike in demand for hops processing. The Hops Alliance is the first occupant of a new food innovation hub located in the former Glacier Dome at 1610 Barlow St. in Traverse City.

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