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Leaves Shadow

Growing Saginaw County:
Agriculture & Enterprise

A Deeper Look

Humble beginnings for Saginaw County farms grew into large specialty farms and agribusiness corporations. In doing so, they reshaped the landscape, provided economic development, and changed communities. Many who came to work the soil had to endure hardships. Their labor and dedication to the region also shaped communities.

Here we take a deeper look at niche crops and businesses that further explore the role of agriculture and enterprise in developing Saginaw County.


U-Pick Farming:
The Basis for Agritourism

“Simply stated, agritourism could be thought of as the crossroads of tourism and agriculture. Stated more technically, agritourism can be defined as a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining and/or educating the visitors while generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.”

-National Agricultural Law Center

Backwoods Blueberries U Pick Sign

U-pick, also known as “pick-your-own,” “cut-your-own" or “choose-your-own," farming emerged in the United States during the 1930s and 40s. This process is where customers go directly to the farm and choose their own products from the field, vine, tree, etc., then pay the farmer directly for what they have harvested. The goal for this type of farming is to bring people directly to the farm, cutting out expensive transportation, storage, and production facilities that directly impact the farmer’s profit margin. Customers get the benefit of “rural recreation” and fresh produce, less expensive than grocery store prices.


In Saginaw County, popular u-pick operations include picking blueberries, strawberries, and cut-your-own Christmas trees. The sandy and acidic soil of western Saginaw County especially is preferable to berries and pines, making both crops profitable u-pick sources. However, u-pick farmers in this region are largely hobby farmers, meaning that their farm operations are generally smaller and not meant to be a primary source of family income. While the area climate and soil are well-suited to these crops, the lack of large-scale processing facilities nearby makes commercial production less likely. Equipment and labor costs are also a barrier to hobby farmers moving toward more large-scale production.


The Mayflower Mills reflect two significant changes in milling during the nineteenth century. 

One was the use of steam power.  For centuries, commercial grist milling had been done using waterpower at rapids or falls; using fast running water to power large wooden waterwheels that would then turn large mill stones to grind the wheat grains, separating the kernel’s endosperm (flour) from the hull and the bran.  After 1840, wooden waterwheels gave way to more efficient brass and iron water turbines.  At the same time steam powered mills became more prevalent, particularly in the Midwest and in areas without access to consistent waterpower.  The mills that emerged in Saginaw County were steam powered mills, reflecting this significant change in the industry at the time.   

A second innovation was the integration of roller mills, replacing the traditional mill stones with two water-cooled steel rollers.   


Before the middle of the nineteenth century, most wheat farmers in the United States grew soft winter wheat, planting it in the fall and harvesting it the following summer.  But for those in northern states with harsh winters, farmers increasingly grew spring wheat, which millers could not easily process.  The bran shell was hard and brittle, and it was easily crushed between the mill stones.  This could cause mill stones to run hot, damaging the flour. It was also nearly impossible to separate these small pieces of hard bran from the wheat kernel’s endosperm.  Although today whole grain breads sell quite well, in the nineteenth century such “impurities” were signs of an inferior product. 

Wheat Plant

The Mayflower Mills

Mayflower Mlls

Food Will Win the War(s)

Victoy Gardens

Many of us associate Victory Gardens with World War II, however, they actually first became a sign of patriotism during World War I. 


After Belgium suffered invasion from Germany in 1914, its crops were decimated and fear of famine pervaded. Warring powers placed blame for Belgium’s plight on one another. As historian Gary Nash explained, their attitudes were, “Let Belgium import food from abroad as she had done before the war, said the Germans. On the other side stood the tightening British naval blockade of Belgian ports. Let the Germans, as occupiers of Belgium, feed its people, said the British. Besides, they argued, how could one be sure that the Germans would not seize imported food for themselves?”


Enter Herbert Hoover. In 1914, Hoover had made money in mining and was working in London. He was already thinking he needed to find something fulfilling to do when war broke out and hundreds of Americans fled the continent to London, hoping to find a way home. Americans in London worked quickly to help the stranded travelers by providing temporary assistance until their transportation could be arranged. Hoover demonstrated his leadership skills. In fact, the American ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Hines Page, recognized Hoover’s talents and when they needed to find a way to deal with the food shortage in Belgium, people quickly agreed that Hoover was the man for the job. 

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