by Diane Conners, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities
The Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network was born out of a 2009 Farm Route to Prosperity Summit organized by economic development and business groups, farmers and farm groups, nonprofit local food policy advocates, land conservancies, job training organizations, health professionals, community garden supporters, school food service directors, and many others.
The purpose of the summit was to determine how the region’s food and farm interests should follow up on the Grand Vision, a 50-year planning process that called for strong farms, healthy people, and abundant, fruitful farmland. Six years later, the Food & Farming Network continues as it was founded— not as an organization, but as a structure through which many organizations and individuals can meet and make progress together.
Here is a sampling of ways partners have worked toward the network’s goal that by 2020, the region’s food and farming systems are more resilient and provide at least 20% of our region’s food:
Infrastructure development: The Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance was born out of the infrastructure committee of the network and is working with small to mid-size growers, Cherry Capital Foods, the Goodwill Farm to Freezer project and others to provide space for processing and distribution in a Food Hub building; and to foster and connect other infrastructure projects. The network also served in an advisory capacity for the expanded development of Taste the Local Difference ® as a key component of marketing infrastructure for local food.
Food access: The network and its health and youth committee supported a 2010 Farm to School Conference; provided TLD farm guides to low-income families via health department and hospital programs; launched Cooking with Kids at the Northwestern Michigan Fair to provide families with a fun and affordable way to learn kid-friendly recipes using local produce; raised funds to bring Double Up Food Bucks to the region; and held Food, Farms & Health, a 2014 event showcasing ways to use local food to advance individual and community health.
Farmer resources: Partners have collaborated in “Get Farming, Keep Farming” workshops; promoted voluntary, small-farm appropriate food safety certifications called the Safe Food Risk Assessment; advanced farmer residency programs; supported seed-saving and rootstock efforts as a way to preserve biodiversity; and in area conservancies, developed numerous land protection measures. Partners also worked with the Grand Traverse Bay Area Economic Development Corporation as it created the 2020 Fund, which provides bridge loans to farmers and entrepreneurs.
Community identity: The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce challenged its members to request that caterers source at least 20% of their food locally for any meeting or event that they host. Munson Medical Center was a lead host for Food, Farms & Health, and is committed to continued involvement. Schools have embraced farm to school programming, and the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District is working to be a central resource. TLD is being adopted by area retailers and other businesses as a branding tool to promote and sell local products.