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Our Voices: Chamber Takes Strong Stance on Local Food

November 11, 2011 | By Jim Lively

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Tuesday’s Chamber-sponsored Economic Outlook Breakfast brought some unexpected good news for the local agricultural economy that didn’t show up in the annual fiscal report, but instead showed up on people’s plates!

Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Douglas Luciani made a simple but bold proclamation from the stage at the top of the program – that from now on, the Chamber will require that at least 20 percent of the food on the menu at their catered events come from local sources. Then, he said that both the eggs and cheese in the omelet on our plates came from a local farm.

This strong showing of leadership from the business community is exactly what the region needs to reach one of the goals of the regional Food & Farming Network, to double the value of the region’s food and agricultural system by 2019. And, it aligns perfectly with MLUI’s “Spend $10 Local Dollars” campaign as well.

The Chamber’s commitment to the local economy and agriculture has been strong for a long time, but this recent requirement for 20 percent local food at all events came as a result of a friendly nudge from a hardworking Chamber member Evan Smith.

Smith is Operations Manager of Cherry Capital Foods, a distributor of local food based in Traverse City. Cherry Capital Foods helps connect area farmers with food buyers – processors, grocers, and restaurants.

Smith has also been a longstanding Chamber representative on regional  transportation policy issues. As the chairman of TC-TALUS, which managed the Grand Vision process, Smith has logged countless hours over the past several years in transportation committee meetings on behalf of the Chamber.

According to Smith, Luciani appreciated that tremendous commitment and asked if there was something the Chamber could do to help give a little back to Cherry Capital Foods. Smith’s request was that the Chamber require at least some local food at all their events.

The Chamber took that suggestion, and is now committed to following through.

“Our goal is that by making this a requirement of doing business with the Chamber that it will get our vendors to start buying local food as part of doing business,” said Laura Oblinger, chief operating officer at the chamber. “Hopefully over time we won’t even need to make the request.” Oblinger added, “The broader goal for the Chamber goes beyond just local food, but retaining our local dollars in our community.”

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