collage of photos from the Local Food Economy event
Top: Bill Brinkerhoff, Kathy Sample, and Alex Young–our speakers.
Second Row Left: Tim Redmond, Jeff McCabe, and Karen Driggs.
Second Row Middle: Bill and Alex.
Second Row Left: Steve Mangan, Rohani Foulkes, and Tim Redmond.

Today I devote my post to discussing and brainstorming the issues and opportunities that will allow us to GROW THE LOCAL FOOD ECONOMY in Washtenaw County and to a large extent the state of Michigan.

I invite anyone with a focus on food, nutrition, economic development, land preservation, animal safety, and economic and environmental sustainability to join in the conversation.

I will do my best in this column to summarize the event but if you’re really interested here is video thanks to Roger Rayle. Last Friday, ninety of us gathered at Zingerman’s Roadhouse to discuss how to grow the local food economy.  The main speakers were:

  • Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff who discussed how why they started the Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor, and
  • Alex Young, the founder and managing partner at both Zingerman’s Roadhouse and Corman Farms. Alex discussed the variety of challenges and opportunities facing food providers today’s local economy.

Here’s what Kathy and Bill had to say about why they started the Argus Farm Stop.

We started Argus because we have always been enthusiastic about buying our food from local farmers.  We saw that the current way that small farms sell their goods was inhibiting their ability to grow.  We thought that there had to be a way to facilitate their growth at returns that encourage them to grow more.  At the same time, consumers are indicating that they want to know where their food comes from and who is growing it, so to preserve that relationship with the farmer, a new model had to preserve the farm identity.  We saw a similar store in Wooster, Ohio, called Local Roots.  We worked with them to understand the potential, and started making connections in our area to understand how such a model might work.

During the course of the morning several other local food providers shared their perspectives. These include:

Highlights and Themes from the event

Local Food Economy Barriers

  • Demand has surpassed the supply
  • Need to create small serving sizes of organic food for vending machine operations
  • Need to create a food region like in Europe
  • The logistics getting the food to the consumer is a challenge
  • Affordable prices for everyone is a challenge
  • Locally there is a lack of hay
  • Slaughterhouse availability to the farmer
  • Transportation
  • Frozen products for year round consumption
  • Aggregating suppliers

Local Food Economy Needs

  • Getting into Schools, Hospitals, Dining Halls, etc.
  • Access to Capital for farmers
  • Tap into USDA grants to start up Farm Store Initiatives

Ways to Advance the Local Food Economy

  • Location – close to people ideally within 2 miles
  • Small Friendly Environments to hang out in
  • GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) Certification required to sell to institutions
    • Group GAP – many farms coming together & being certified as one group
  • Supply chain connections
  • Create on-line market app.  Connect farmers & engineers to create an App that lets you know what a market has in stock before going shopping.
  • Connecting with Medical & Dental communities like Kaiser Permanente in Southern California
  • Create videos to tell stories of local farms / food economy importance

Local Food Economy Resources

  • Wendell Berry books
    • Eating Culture
    • Cost of Food Mindset
    • Support local food economy
  • Washtenaw County Farmers Markets
  • Washtenaw Food Policy Council
  • Michigan Small Business Development Center
    • Local investment industry
    • Crowd Funding
    • Banking Options
    • Direct Business Assistance
  • The AA SCORE chapter is sponsoring a workshop on Thursday May 12 at WCC for local cottage industry entrepreneurs or anyone considering starting a cottage food business.  Focus will be to help with the operational aspects of their home business including current licensing, labeling, distribution, record keeping requirements etc.  Also, information on what they need to know and do if they wish to grow their business to the next commercial level will be discussed.
    • Thursday, May 12, 9am – 3pm, Lunch included
    • Washtenaw Community College, Business Education Bldg., Room 158
    • Link for additional workshop details and the required pre-registration ($10).

Let’s Keep the Conversation Going

Thanks again to our speakers, to everyone who participated, and to everyone who attended.

If you’d like to add to the conversation, please post a comment below. If we have sufficient interest, I may pull together some comments for my next Dr. Rob post.

7 thoughts to “Grow Our Local Food Economy

  • JD Boydston

    Dr. Pasick, thank you very much for hosting this meeting. Another great organization to include in this discussion is Fair Food Network Some of the great programs include, but are not limited to: Double Up Food Bucks, providing access to fresh, healthy food for low-income families; Detroit Grocery Incubator, helping to return grocery stores to Detroit neighborhoods; and the Fair Food Fund, providing financing and business assistance to good food enterprises.

    • Robert Pasick

      Thank you! A great addition.

  • Maria Nevai

    Hi Rob, sorry to miss this presentation. As a hobby farmer (hay, horses, fruit) of over 20 years I am interested in great ideas, programs, and resources. Please keep me in mind for continued discussions – thank you!

  • Susan Lackey

    Hi, Rob.

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there. According to Charlie Crone, it was a great session. I would like to note one slight error for the record. Legacy’s first ‘parent’ – the Washtenaw Land Conservancy, was actually founded in 1971, making us the oldest local land trust in Michigan. That’s a source of considerable pride, as is the founding of our second parent, the Potawatomi Community Land Trust, in 1991, and the wise merger of the two later in the decade.

    In May of this year, Legacy (through it’s founding organizations) will mark 45 years of assisting private landowners in the important work of protecting their land for future generations.

    • Robert Pasick

      Thank you for your note. We’ve edited the description.
      Congratulations on the 45 year success of Legacy Land Conservancy!

  • Jeff McCabe

    Fantastic gathering Rob! A very productive and timely discussion. I am glad to see that the conversation is continuing.

    I am personally interested in the continued discussion of how Washtenaw County is poised to play a large role in the creation of mid-size farms that take the principles and practices of the CSA/farmers market growers and scale up production through advanced tooling and practices to serve larger institutional buyers. I imagine a group of farmers, investors and business leaders advancing the business planning of this food production model capable of addressing the $1 Billion market that is our county’s food economy. Looking for other food visionaries!

    Another aspect of advancing small scale farming and value added food enterprises that we did not get into in detail is some alternative financing models. I am familiar with several that apply specifically to hoophouses (NRCS high tunnel cost shares of up to $9700 and Hoophouses for Health loans of up to $15,000). The NRCS also funds a great deal of other farm innovation and is one of the best funded programs for entrepreneurs looking to change the food system. In addition, I do a great deal of volunteer work for Kiva, and organization that is changing the face of financing for social entrepreneurs through peer to peer lending. Loans are not restricted to farm/food. Borrowers can access up to $10,000 interest/cost free and pay back over 3 years. The program can be part of a larger loan package and can also be a great stepping stone to qualifying for larger loans.

    • Robert Pasick

      Thanks, Jeff, for your contributions at the event and for adding to this conversation online.


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