Fostering a Regional Food System in Northeast Michigan

Fostering a Regional Food System in Northeast MichiganA recent Americana grant will help to expand and stabilize the food system in Northeast Michigan – in the words of the grant recipient, to create “a region where local food and farming are an avenue for wealth creation and economic development, where healthy-fresh food is available to all residents in convenient, affordable, and accessible ways, and where farmers are connected to communities.”

Michigan has been a national leader in direct and wholesale market development for Michigan farmers, but Northeast Michigan has not experienced the same level of success in creating local and regional markets as other parts of the state. The nine counties of Northeast Michigan along Lake Huron are extremely rural, with long distances between towns and cities and a comparatively small and aging population. The region is classified as a low socioeconomic status region with public school free/reduced lunch rates among the highest in the state. The region features more than 2,200 farms, of which 68% are small farms with sales under $10,000 annually. Many farmers in the region lack the capacity to meet the needs of local and regional markets, develop new market channels, or distribute directly to regional organizations and agencies.

In this project, food system experts John FiskKristine Ranger, and Steve Wright, with support from the United Way of Northeast Michigan and other partners, will strengthen the regional food system in Northeast Michigan by creating new distribution channels and increasing the capacity of the region’s small- to mid-sized farmers. Among other activities, eight weekly pop-up farmers markets at senior centers will provide a point-of-sale for farmers to sell local and regionally produced foods directly to consumers. The team will pilot a wholesale distribution network to aggregate, distribute and market local and regionally produced products into the dining halls of schools and senior centers in the region.  An “Institutional Marketplace” gathering (with MSU Extension) will enable farmers and potential food service customers to discuss their respective needs and offerings.

The overall goal of the project is to advance “a regional economy in Northeast Michigan rooted in food and agriculture.” Farmers will experience an expanded rural distribution network and new markets. Community members will come to know the growers who produce fresh, affordable, locally-produced food. Agencies and organizations will experience greater efficiency and coordination. Expanded markets and improved cooperation will help strengthen and expand the regional food system and improve the quality of life for farmers and residents on issues of food, agriculture, health, and the economy.

Americana’s vision for Michigan agriculture includes “landscapes where each individual, every family and the entire community is deeply connected to the food system, land, and nature; and where farmers are prosperous and focused on sustainability.” We are pleased to support a project that is designed to achieve a vision for Michigan agriculture that is so closely aligned with ours. More information about the food system in Northeast Michigan is available here[JF1] . For more information about this project, contact John Fisk, [email protected].

Fostering a Regional Food System in Northeast Michigan

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