By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has announced a series of rural development grants totaling over $1.4 million.
“This round of rural development grants has turned out to be one of the most diverse yet,” said MDARD Director Gary McDowell in a January 31 announcement. “Just look at that list. Funds will be helping to develop or support everything from infrastructure and community gardens to craft beverages and beehives. With every round of grants, not only are we making an impact on rural areas in Michigan, but we're also learning just how much is going on in our state, and how much it has to offer.”
The so-called Rural Development Fund Grants program received 110 proposals for a total request of $8.4 million. The department evaluated the proposals on a competitive basis and awarded 20 of them with a grant. The awardees provided a total of $2.3 million in matching funds; however, the grants are given in the form of a reimbursement, said Tom Rosemurgy, a grant recipient whose beekeeping operation received a grant for $13,300.
Rosemurgy and his wife operate the Keweenaw Bee Co. in Chasell, Michigan. in the Upper Peninsula. Eligible counties for this particular program must have a population of no more than 60,000 residents.
“It's a small, community based beekeeping company,” Rosemurgy, who works in a nearby community as a police chief, said. Rosemurgy's wife works as a nurse and a midwife. “We're trying to become more than just hobbyists. My wife and I have been discussing opportunities for expansion.
“The grant really came at a good time for us. We've been talking about how to expand and this is perfect for us. Right now our business is all about honey and beeswax. We haven't yet looked into pollination services, but I have talked with a couple of organic farms in this area.”
Rosemurgy would like to double the size of his apiary from 20 to 40 and now, he says, the grant will enable him to do that. He uses a brand of Turkish Langstroth type beehives called Apimaye, which are made of hard plastic. Rosemurgy says this helps insulate the bees in the winter and provides for good ventilation during the warm weather.
“The big thing that sets us apart from other apiaries is that we use an insulated hive body,” he added. “I think we're seeing a better survival rate for our bees. These hives make it so the bees have to do a lot less work to stay alive in the winter. If I can maintain a 10-15 percent loss, I can spend less on bees.”
Rosemurgy said there is an insatiable appetite among the public for locally made honey right now.
“People love it,” he said. “It seems like no matter how much you have, you can sell it. It's all about getting the word out about the health benefits of raw, locally made honey.”
Other grant recipients this year include Arbre Farms of Walkerville, Mich., for $84,000. The grant will allow the company to build a multiple-unit housing structure to support “current and potential employees in housing transition.” Another recipient was Sklarczyk Seed Farm LLC., which has received $50,000 for expansion of its potato sorting and sizing operation. To see a list of the other 17 grant recipients, go to www.michigan.gov/mdard.