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Michigan ag entrepreneur workshops fine-tune plans
By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
Michigan Correspondent

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Attending one of Michigan State University’s entrepreneurial workshops last year was just the nudge Ruth Petersen needed to set in motion her dream of operating her own agribusiness.

Ruth, along with her husband, Allen, and their children own and operate a dairy farm in Montcalm County’s Douglass Township. A self-proclaimed “girly-girl,” she said that she was probably the least likely of her siblings to end up becoming a dairy farmer’s wife. But she wouldn’t change a thing.

Since attending last year’s entrepreneurial workshop put on by the MSU Product Center, Ruth has set in motion her dream of operating a bed and breakfast at their farm.

“I realized that I can’t do that right now because we can’t afford the cost to remodel, so we decided to start offering farm tours,” she said.

At the workshop “they really emphasized breaking down your idea into bite-sized goals,” she said. “They encourage us to look at what you can do right now to move forward with your idea.”

The format she said included audience participation where people were able to talk about their ideas to the group and then receive input and ideas from their peers.

“People would come up to you and give you more ideas after we talked,” she said. “It was neat to hear what they had to say.”

Ruth discussed her goal of someday operating a bed and breakfast “One gal said a family bed and breakfast idea is a great idea, but people are so busy now that they would probably like to just send their kids instead of going to the farm themelves for a week,” Ruth said. “At first I couldn’t believe that people would want to send their kids to stay with strangers for a week, but the idea has grown on me.

“Since I’ve been to the workshop I haven’t stopped thinking about ideas of what I can do,” she said.

This year the Petersen family kicked off its Forest, Farm and Field Educational Tours and Day Camps business and is achieving some success.

Throughout the fall they are operating Fridays through Sundays and other days by reservation.

“We tailor the program to fit the group’s needs,” Ruth said.

With the MSU Experimental Farm across the road and the Comden Towle Model Forest to the west of their farm, the Petersen’s offer more than just a look at dairy farming.

“We teach about our own farm as well as what MSU research is doing and about forest management,” she said.

Activities include touring the family’s dairy farm to see first-hand milk production practices, butter making, hand-churning homemade ice cream, a lantern walk in the woods, logging and forest habitat, pond life, turkey and deer habitat and hunting, archery, crops production and more.

“The workshop was valuable and very encouraging,” Ruth said.

“They were enthusiastic and supportive and gave us ideas of where to look for information.”

The MSU Product Center is again offering its entrepreneurial workshops in five locations in November. The schedule includes:

•Nov. 1 from 6-9:30 p.m. at the Starting Block in Hart •Nov. 3 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the MSU Clarksville Horticultural Experiment Station in Clarksville •Nov. 7 from 1-4:30 p.m. at the Jackson County MSU Extension Office in Jackson •Nov. 10 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Macomb County MSU Extension Office in Clinton Township •Nov. 13 from 1-4:30 p.m. at the University Center in Gaylord

Presented by the MSU Product Center, the workshops will help participants learn to develop a winning business idea, match it to customer wants and needs and map out a plan for business success. The Product Center provides one-on-one business development services through a statewide network of certified business counselors.

It also publishes market studies and conducts training programs for entrepreneurs in food, agriculture and natural resources. Participants also will have an opportunity to trade ideas and network with other entrepreneurs.

The registration fee is $45 in advance or $50 at the door. Two representatives from the same company may register in advance for $65. The fee includes resource materials and refreshments. A complete program brochure is available online at www.productcenter.msu.edu

Call 517-432-4608 for more information or e-mail product@msu.edu

This Michigan farm news was published in the Oct. 25, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

10/24/2006