FFN awards grants to build northwest Michigan’s agricultural future

dollar-signThe Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network (FFN) yesterday announced eight mini seed grants to organizations in the local food system. FFN’s partners at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and the Northsky Nonprofit Network provided funds for this program via Networks Northwest, the Regional Prosperity Initiative, and Rotary Charities.

“I congratulate the grant recipients for their creative projects which help the network accomplish its goals,” said FFN co-leader Bill Palladino. “These investments will have a direct impact on the communities being served with measureable results by our next summit in February 2017.”

The FFN supports projects that relate to at least one of five network action areas: local food sales, farm to institution, agri-business generation, food access, and farmland resources. In total, $8,000 was awarded for 8 projects who demonstrated innovative collaborative efforts for food system change.

The maximum grant amount of $2,000 was awarded to the Leelanau Conservancy to develop a new tool that will link buyers to sellers of farmland, lessors to lessees of farmland, and agribusiness employers to agribusiness employees through an online database.

“While many people are well aware of the aging of the baby boomer generation, what they may not have considered is how that affects agriculture in our region,” said Brian Bourdages, FFN Farmland Resources task force leader.  “You often hear that the aging of the baby boomers is going to result in the largest transfer of wealth in our country’s history. What most people don’t consider is that for aging farmers, the vast majority of that wealth is tied up in their farmland. This means that we are also poised for the largest transfer of land in our country’s history. Without tools to help aging farmers pass their farmland on to the next generation of growers, we risk losing much of it forever to residential development, or for it to lie fallow, no longer contributing to our economy and the rural character that makes our region such a desirable place to live, work and play.”

Alexandria Schnabelrauch, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau Young Farmer Department, said . “These facts underscore the importance of providing tools and technology to not only help young farmers with leadership development and business planning, but connect with opportunities and resources to break into the field.”

Isaiah Wunsch, a sixth-generation fruit farmer on the Old Mission Peninsula said without the help of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and conservation-minded individuals in the area, the farm he now owns would have been lost to development. But there’s still room for improvement.

“The project that garnered me my property was done under urgent conditions in a last minute effort to save the farm,” Wunsch said. “We desperately need a more organized and efficient manner to help get farms into the hands of the next generation of growers like myself.”

Other funded projects include:

  • A Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology collaboration with Bay Area Recycling for Charities and Short’s Brewing Company to localize composting with an educational component;
  • Food preparation demonstrations on a food truck at the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market—a collaboration between SEEDS, Grow Benzie, and the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority;
  • Professional graphic art services for a healthful food guide created by the FFN Food Access task force for the 10-county area;
  • Building on the YMCA Hayo-Went-Ha Camps’ program for teaching campers about good nutrition and how to support local farms and markets through field trips to small farms and additional healthy food choices;
  • A Northwest Michigan Health Services, Inc. food and nutrition prescription initiative for patients living in Benzie County diagnosed with diabetes, obesity or poor oral hygiene, in association with Grow Benzie and Michigan State University Extension;
  • Grow a Row and church garden produce sharing, a collaborative effort in Boyne City organized by Good Neighbors Food Pantry
  • Vegetable preparation demonstrations and tastings by Good Samaritan Family Services and Providence Farm at the Ellsworth food pantry.

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