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Regional food systems become essential ingredient for Michigan’s future

March 25, 2009 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Table of Contents:

Part 1: See the Local Difference

Regional food systems become essential ingredient for Michigan’s future

Everybody Wins

How Did We Get Here?

The Growing Demand for Local Food Means Kids Eat Better

As the Supply of Local Food Expands It’s Energizing Neighborhoods and Young People

The Rise of New Markets

Thinking Bigger

Healthy Choices, Healthier Economy

Part 2: Charting our Good Food Course
Four steps to strengthening Michigan with more local food and farming

Charting our Good Food Course

Planning for Food
Local governments make room for local foods

Visionary Farming

Urban Grocery

Local Food: Lay of the Land

Growing Entrepreneurs
Communities foster innovative farm and food business

Farmland connections

Youth Entrepreneurship

Farming’s New Faces

Wired For Success

Individual Development Accounts

Improving the Business Environment

A New Plan for Green Space

Investing in Infrastructure
Local food economy for new equipment and services

Hooping It Up

Local and In Orbit

Acknowlegements and Regional Directory

Lee Arboreal’s family and farm are growing.

This special report, See the Local Difference, provides a tour of the emerging good food system in Michigan: How it is taking shape, what it contributes, and how local and state leaders can pitch in to both accelerate and make the most of it.
Part I of See the Local Difference covers the economic opportunities that flow from supporting and advancing local and regional food systems.
Part II provides a map of the programs and policies on the pathway leading to good food and a more durable prosperity for Michigan.

Comfortably profitable now in their fifth growing season, Lee and wife Laurie are adding blueberries, blackberries, cows, turkeys, and goats to their 40-acre place, just outside of Bangor in southwest Michigan’s famous fruit region. That’s a major milestone for a young farm family that started out with crops like lettuce and carrots, which produce quick cash in just one year.

The Arboreals reached this milestone not by trying to compete with lettuce from California or strawberries from Chile. They did it by selling to Michigan’s burgeoning market for food that is grown for its flavor rather than for its ability to survive cross-country shipping.

The two currently have 250 subscribers to a season’s worth of food through their Community Supported Agriculture operation. They sell at three farmers markets. And they drop off thousands of dollars worth of produce every week at another farm’s nearby loading dock for pickup by trucks serving Whole Foods Markets in Michigan.

Patty Cantrell
Local food pioneers Lee Arboreal and his wife, Laurie, are part of a growing movement that is reshaping Michigan’s economy, region by region.

And their little toddler Iris, just out of diapers when they started farming in 2004. She’s now kicking around in cowboy boots at age seven, taking horse riding lessons from a neighbor, and soaking up the abundant life of a farm kid, surrounded by mother hens, baby goats, and verdant gardens.

The most powerful part of this new farm family’s success, however, is the fact that Lee, Laurie, and Iris are far from being alone in some pastoral dream. Growing all around them is a broad base of customers who are bypassing mainline markets and instead buying from a small but growing crop of neighborly operations like theirs.

Indeed, across Michigan and the nation, more farmers, food businesses, and families are going out of their way to grow, sell, and buy food that has more taste and nutrition when it reaches the plate—and fewer environmental and social costs along the way.

In the process, these farms, food businesses, and families—and others, from doctors to school cooks—are literally reinventing our systems for producing, processing, and marketing food.

Innovations come from even the least agricultural areas: Urban gardeners in Detroit, for example, are meeting that city’s terrible lack of quality grocery stores head-on by growing and selling fresh local produce.

Innovations also are coming from small, medium, and large farms that are growing for and selling to local markets; more of those farms are also getting more involved in larger wholesale opportunities as well. Those opportunities are coming as both Michigan-based and larger, global food distributors like Sysco Corporation adjust their purchasing practices. Faced with a broader range of tastes and concerns in the market, Sysco is looking to put more food that is produced locally and sustainably—that is, in harmony with nature and communities—onto restaurant menus and school and hospital trays.

Eastern Market Corporation
Detroit’s venerable Eastern Market has a plan to help rebuild southeast Michigan’s local food economy. This year, a $14M renovation was completed on Shed 2, the oldest, built in 1891.

Hidden inside this budding, dynamic movement is a precious gem for Michigan. Like a subtle spice that makes a dish great, the new community and business connections forming around tasty, healthy, trustworthy food are becoming an essential ingredient for the state’s future success.

Indeed, the beauty and necessity of growing, eating, and sharing good food is rising up the list of strategies Michigan leaders are working on in their bid to build competitive places.

There’s something powerful, for example, about the new, three-acre “D-Town” urban farm on the western edge of Detroit’s Rouge Park. It’s one of many community-based food initiatives that Peter Anastor, manager of community and urban development at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, says the agency is starting to appreciate.

Eastern Market Corporation
Leslie and Ty, of Avalon International Breads, vend at Detroit's Eastern Market, where consumers think more about the people, practices, and places behind their food.

“Our organization is just recognizing that food and farming is a piece of urban revitalization that ranges from the vibrancy of urban gardens and farmers markets to the basic services aspect of having grocery stores in the city,” Mr. Anastor said. “If you want people to live there, you have to have some place for them to do their grocery shopping.”

D-Town is not about attracting the next software company to the community, according to Malik Yakini, head of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Instead, he recently told The Michigan Citizen, D-Town is about increasing access to quality, local food and building educational and economic opportunity.

“This is also healing work,” he said. “In addition to healing ourselves, we’re also healing the ecosystem.”

The same thing is true of the many school districts across Michigan that are now beginning to serve local farm foods: It’s about healthier kids, not making their towns more competitive.

But the cumulative effect of these and other regional food initiatives is to build that sense of place—rural to urban—that Michigan must strengthen. These efforts do that by making new local commerce and community connections and by transforming diets, neighborhoods, and markets.

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