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Time to Push Candidates on Local Food

Budding statewide movement deserves attention from lawmakers

September 7, 2010 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Michigan Good Food Charter
  Local food proponents should quiz Michigan’s electoral candidates about the Michigan Good Food Charter.

Local food: Those two words mean much more than simply how far your tomato has traveled.

When northwest Michigan says "local food," we're also talking about the people and places behind our food. We're talking about the important work of local food and farm businesses in girding our economy, providing wholesome foods, and protecting land and water. And we're talking about all of our local farms, whether they sell tomatoes at the farmers' market or cherries to the whole world.

Similarly, our ability to get all we want and need from local food and farming requires more than just buying locally. We also need to elect people who will make sure our state and federal government are on the job of building healthy food and strong farms into our future, too.

The weeks between now and Election Day, Nov. 2, are prime time for making sure every candidate who wants your vote hears your support for local food and farms. It will be your voice—in letters to the editor, at candidate forums, and on the telephone with campaign callers—that will decide how much care and attention we get in the future from Lansing and Washington D.C.

That's why the new Michigan Good Food Charter is so important. Produced through a nine-month, statewide meeting of many minds, this document is a blueprint for building a new food and farm reality in Michigan. It's a guide to the food and farm policies we need elected officials to pursue.

The Charter calls for 20 percent of Michigan food to come from Michigan farms by 2020 and twice as many people (80 percent of our population) to have easy, affordable access to it. The Charter also lists 25 specific action items for building a "good food" system, one that results in healthier diets in all communities, stronger local economies, and a fair deal for farms, food and agricultural workers, and the environment.

Acton items in the Charter range from helping schools and hospitals put healthy, local food on student and patient plates to making sure local zoning and economic development support farmland and urban and rural food production.

You can check out the Michigan Good Food Charter at http://www.michiganfood.org/ and learn about the three organizations that pulled it together: The Michigan Food Policy Council, Michigan Food Bank Council, and C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University.

Then consider committing yourself to these two important election season steps:

  1. Add your name to the list of Charter supporters. Sign on at http://www.michiganfood.org/ and tell candidates you expect them to follow the Charter's principles and implement its priorities after they're elected. Ask your neighbors and local organizations to do so, too.
  2. Talk up your support for good food and strong farms. Send a letter to the editor, talk with candidates at forums, and bend the ears of campaign callers. Pick out one or two of the Charter's 25 priorities and describe why they matter to you.

The Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network has signed on to the Charter. This growing group of individuals, businesses, and agencies has set an ambitious 10-year goal: To increase the resilience and double the value of the region's food and agricultural system. Learn more at FoodandFarmingNetwork.org and at TheGrandVision.org.

Join the Food and Farming Network this fall as we call candidates' attention to the Charter as a blueprint for what they need to do when in office.

It's about tomatoes, for sure, how far they've traveled and how good they taste. But even more, it's about neighbors, jobs, and clean water. It's about a future in which no one goes hungry and everyone knows what a fresh-picked strawberry tastes like. This is prosperity.

This article was first published in the Sept. 4, 2010 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Journalist Patty Cantrell founded the Taste the Local Difference program at the Michigan Land Use Institute and helped develop the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network. She co-chaired the Michigan Good Food Charter's "food system infrastructure" task force. Reach her at pattycATmlui.org.
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