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Aiding The Hunt For Healthier Local Foods

New five-county guide puts farmers and consumers together

June 21, 2004 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service


“The holistic prosperity of the Grand Traverse region is directly connected to the profitability of family farms,” said Douglas Luciani, president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Joined by farm interests and business leaders, the Michigan Land Use Institute has introduced Select a Taste of Traverse Bay, a five-county print and on-line guide that links people who want local high-quality meats, milk, fruits, and vegetables with growers in the greater Grand Traverse Bay region who produce and sell them.

The guide includes more than 140 farms in Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Antrim, and Kalkaska counties that represent an estimated $4.5 million a year in sales, 270 full- and part-time jobs, and 19,000 acres of farmland. It is the most comprehensive guide of its kind in Michigan and one of dozens across the country now springing up to satisfy new consumer hunger for the freshness, security, and quality of local farm products.

Press Conference near Buckley
The Institute announced the guide earlier this week at a news conference at Werp Farms, south of Traverse City near Buckley, which has successfully switched from bulk production of corn to high-value production of specialty vegetables for fine-dining restaurants from Mackinac Island to Detroit. Werp Farms exemplifies the new entrepreneurial direction economic development and agriculture specialists say farmers must take to be profitable in a global food system that favors consolidated and far-flung production, processing, and shipping, and undercuts local and fresher foods.

“The holistic prosperity of the Grand Traverse region is directly connected to the profitability of family farms, which help keep our communities alive with commerce and our countryside open and inviting to residents and visitors alike,” said Douglas Luciani, president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, one of the project’s sponsors.

A Kellogg Foundation-Funded Project
Select a Taste of Traverse Bay is the first step in a new regional initiative, funded in part by a three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to help agricultural entrepreneurs increase their reach and revenues and make family farming a greater and more vibrant part of northwest Lower Michigan’s economy. Select a Taste of Traverse Bay is designed to make consumers and producers more aware of each other in order to increase the size and number of local market opportunities available to farmers like Mike and Tina Werp. The goal is to make local foods grown in the Grand Traverse region a part of every family, restaurant, and cafeteria meal.

The guide includes a farm-by-farm explanation of the food they produce, location, hours, and contact information. The guide is available in a print edition, and the Internet edition available on the Institute’s Web site at www.mlui.org/foodguide includes an interactive search feature.  In other regions, similar guides have helped residents and tourists find farm-fresh foods and, in turn, increase sales for farmers who are moving from the “get big or get out” strategy of the global food industry to a more sane and profitable “stay small and stay in” strategy.

A Vision For Regional Excellence
The Michigan Land Use Institute published Select a Taste of Traverse Bay as part of its overall program to help build a new kind of economy in northwest Michigan that celebrates entrepreneurialism, builds jobs from within, and conserves the region’s fresh water, clear air, and abundant farmland and open spaces. The Institute and its partners are convinced that helping farms connect with local consumers is an important piece of the overall goal of producing an economically vibrant region in the 21st century that is also one of the cleanest and most scenic places to live and work in the United States.

“Farm entrepreneurs are among the state's most creative class of businesses,” said Mr. Luciani, “melding centuries old practices with cutting edge technology and business savvy."

During the next three years the Institute will add other facets to its work to facilitate a regional economic development initiative to help agricultural entrepreneurs find new ways to market their products including promotion, research, and business assistance. The Institute, for example, is working with the University of Michigan to inventory the region’s food and farm assets and opportunities and then develop a strategic plan for capitalizing on them.

The initiative also aims to develop a business plan to build larger and more effective regional food and farm markets, and foster the business-to-business connections that are desperately needed to put consumers and producers together. Delivering on the promise of local food sales requires building the storage, processing, and distribution capacity to supply buyers in the region, such as stores and restaurants, with the consistent quality and quantities of foods they need.

Patty Cantrell is a journalist, economist, and director of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Entrepreneurial Agriculture Project. Reach her at patty@mlui.org.

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