Food Access Study Session: Food Distribution with Tribal Communities

On Wednesday, January 17th, members of the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network (FFN) and the Local Food Alliance (LFA) had the pleasure of getting a tour of the Food Distribution Center for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians (LTBB). As the Food Access Task Force Study Session of the FFN, this trip proved to be as enlightening as we could of hoped for.

When you first enter the Food Distribution Center, you’ll notice the neatness of the layout: carts tucked neatly in a row, cans organized by food groups on the shelves, bags of potatoes organized by poundage, a brightly lit cooler filled with produce and meat. Joe, the enthusiastic program director of LTBB and the Manager of the Food Distribution Center explains how methodical precision affects how efficiently he and his co-workers can complete tasks.


“Where other food distribution centers would be overwhelmed with 36 orders, I can complete that myself in no time at all.” The trick for Joe is minimizing the number of extra movements and tasks people within the warehouse have to perform.

While Network leaders Meghan McDermott and Wendy Weiland test out putting together their own packages of food to be shipped to area residents, you can see how this efficient style of management allows for quick and focused work. Utilizing a belt with tape, markers, and measurement tools allows for that equipment to always be on hand. Using a cart and pulling it through the shelves of food products organized in accordance with the order of the list also prevents from too much scrambling and backtracking through the facility.  



This attention to detail is shown not only in how the facility operates for the workers, but for the members of the community who use this center as a source of food and culture. A big thing you’ll notice in this Food Distribution Center is store-concept style of the layout. Rows of food set-up like aisles in a grocery store and a checkout counter with bags to carry home make the place feel more like any shopping trip around town. Seeing this store concept working for another Food Distribution Center Joe had visited inspired him to replicate a practice with proven success, and it has paid off for both the workers pulling shifts and the patrons who visit.

The experience patrons have while visiting is important to Joe, as the establishment serves not only as a place to collect food but an opportunity to connect to tribal culture. By working to supply Wild Rice, Wild Caught Salmon, and Bison, he’s not only supplying them with an excellent source of nutrition but a connection to traditional diet.

“We know that this salmon was fished by tribal fisherman, processed by tribal people and now can be consumed by tribal members.”

It’s little decisions like these that makes LTBB’s Food Distribution System stand out, and where Joe’s enthusiasm for fair food access shines. Whether it’s supplying cans with brightly colored pictures to cross language barriers, printing detailed lists of food amounts per family, a demo kitchen, recipe lists, or working to supply his store with the highest quality produce and motivating people to eat well and exercise, Joe earns his place under the spotlight in the community.  


10 Cents a Meal Updates


Image result for groundworks 10 cents a meal


By Diane Conners 

The new school year is underway, and 14 school districts in northwest Michigan have extra funding to purchase locally grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes thanks to the state’s 10 Cents a Meal pilot grant program.

So, now is the time for farms, local food distributors, and others to connect with those grant-winning schools: Alanson, Bear Lake, Benzie County Central, Boyne Falls, East Jordan, Frankfort-Elberta, Glen Lake, Harbor Springs, Kaleva Norman Dickson, Manton, Onekama, Petoskey and Traverse City Area public schools. They have up to 10 cents a meal in matching funds to purchase local produce.

If you have time to help these schools with promotional activities like taking photos of kids eating the great food our farmers grow or surveying them about their knowledge and preferences, that’s another great reason to connect with them.

This expanded state pilot project was inspired by a local 10 Cents a Meal pilot that started right here in northwest Michigan and was coordinated by the Groundwork Center. Now, thanks to funding from the Legislature, it is serving 95,000 students in 32 grant-winning schools in three parts of the state—northwest and west Michigan and the Washtenaw region. Learn more at

Joining The Team



Story by Connor Drexler

When I decided to sail over here from Wisconsin to take up an AmeriCorps position with the Food and Farming Network in Traverse City, I knew it would be a good fit. Not only do I love eating and making food, I like to understand how it gets to my plate. I stopped eating red meat because I was concerned about the amount of water it took to produce. I try to buy organic and make it to farmers markets when I’m not sleeping in. Our traditional food system is detrimental to the environment and to farmers, but what was I actually doing about it? What does a good system look like that takes the land, the consumer, the animal, and the farmer into consideration as conscious moral and technical factors in its construction, rather than making food a meaningless commodity that lacks a story and a place.

I always knew northwestern Michigan for the cherries my grandfather would bring to the kitchen in his home near Elk Rapids. It was my first real taste of Michigan. When I came to think of my summers here, my mind would always go back to that bowl of cherries: the handfuls I would pull from the counter almost too high for my reach; the stains my fingers would receive after I had spent time devouring them; and then the pits I would always keep, planning on trying to start my own plot of cherries back in Wisconsin.

My first exposure to local food systems of northwestern Michigan was with Wendy Wieland, vice-chair of the Food and Farming Network. She led me on a tour of Charlevoix and Emmet counties as we visited the Boyne City Farmers Market, the farms of David Coveyou and Brian Bates, and ate at the restaurant Julienne Tomatoes in Petoskey with the Local Food Alliance Leaders. The following day I headed out west, meeting up with the other vice-chair of the Food and Farming Network, Sharron May, as we visited the Frankfort Farmers Market, the Grand Traverse Regional Conservancy’s Misty Acres Farm with Vic Lane, and got a brief tour of St. Ambrose Cellars.







One thing I’ve noticed since I arrived here is that farmers, when giving tours of their land and their crops, have a habit of plucking a ripe piece of the plant and holding it in their hands while they rattle off all kinds of specifics about the growing season that year, the characteristics of the changing market, and methods they use for weed suppression. Whether it’s David Coveyou picking off a ripe pepper from his plot, or Brian Bates showing us the texture of the bean sprouts in his hoop houses, they took great joy out of the sensation of holding the work they had done over the year in their hands. I shared their fascination with the closeness of it, the raw power each piece of produce seemed to hold in its simplicity. I wanted to be a part of that, too. At least, if I’m not literally weeding and watering the fields where they grow, I can be a catalyst for supporting the community that does and the community that benefits from its production.


So from me to you, I send my thanks for this opportunity in environmental activism and community development. The local stories about the events, food, and people in this region are stories I want to tell.  


Connor Drexler, Americorps VISTA,

The Food and Farming Network






FFN Mini-Grants Involve 30 Organizations

Story by Maddy Baroli

The Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network began in 2016 awarding mini-grants — small amounts of seed money for innovative, collaborative projects to enhance our local food system.

With support from Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, the network generated $4,000 from Networks Northwest to go toward the mini-grants. This amount was generously matched by Rotary Charities of Traverse City. The $8,000 then was distributed in varying amounts to eight projects that involved more than 30 different organizations. In total, leveraged resources were worth far more than the original seed money.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 12.43.34 PM.png

Continue reading

Kalkaska Food Summit: ‘The Importance of Local’

Story by Maddy Baroli

The Kalkaska Food Summit took place on Wednesday, March 15 at the Kalkaska Stonehouse— a hub for community events on the grounds of the Kalkaska Memorial Health Center. The Livewell Kalkaska coalition, a group of public health professionals, organized the event in collaboration with the Food and Farming Network.

Last spring, several substantial grants were awarded with funding through the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. District Health Department #10 (DHD 10) received the funds and administered them to local organizations with ideas on how to enable healthy lifestyles in the community. The grant recipients’ work was notable, and Kalkaska’s first food summit was created to shine a spotlight on their efforts.


Continue reading

March Study Session at the Father Fred Foundation

Story by Maddy Baroli

For the Network’s March study session, we took a trip to the Father Fred Foundation. Father Fred has been serving our region since 1989 and provides basic food, clothing, housing and financial assistance at no charge. With light staffing (six full-time and two part-time) and the help of 225 active volunteers, they can invest 93 cents of every dollar donated in guest services (wow!)


The group explores Father Fred’s food pantry. An abundant fresh food section meant to imitate a farmer’s market is featured right where guests walk in.

Providing access to quality food has become a focal point at Father Fred. Operations Director Les Hagaman has been leading the way in promoting healthy food at their pantry— from educational signage and smart choices about what to stock, to an on-site vegetable garden originally planted by local Foodcorps members.

Continue reading

Brian Bates’ Keynote Address: Part 3, Why Bother With Local?

Editor’s Note:
This is Part Three of a three-part series from farmer Brian Bates of Bear Creek Organic Farm in Petoskey, Michigan. This essay was delivered as part of his keynote address to attendees at the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network’s annual Farm Route to Prosperity Summit on February 17th of this year. 
In Part One: On Becoming A Farmer, Bates describes some of the influences in his life that led him to become an organic farmer.  In Part Two: Scale and Perspective, he details an eye-opening journey that took him to a variety of farms around the world, learning what he could about the differences that scale makes in farming practices. Here, Bates concludes with the reward he finds-and thinks we can all find- in contributing to and celebrating our rich local food system.

Part 3: Why Bother With Local?

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 11.33.51 PM

I think prosperity is defined by a community’s well-being. At Bear Creek, we are invested in our community and hopefully our community in us. We won’t relocate our factory tomorrow, and in the meantime, we shop locally, bank locally, insure locally, employ locally. We teach others how to grow, and we welcome strangers to our farm. We celebrate the deliciousness of our food, and we respond precisely to the needs of our community. Growing food 52 weeks of the year is not easy this far north, but it’s what our community craves. So we do it. We work to weave our business and our livelihood into the fabric of our community. And perhaps most incredibly, it only takes a small percentage of our community to sustain our business.

Continue reading