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:
- Barry Lonik who was the first executive director of Legacy Land Conservancy
- Brett Seabury of Golden Fleece Farm
- Jeff McCabe of Nifty Hoops
- Tim Redmond of Eat Local Eat Natural
- Karen Driggs of Sleepy Cricket Healthy Vending
- Rohani Foulkes of The Farmer’s Hand
- Steve Mangan of UofM Dining Operations
- Vincent Smith of Team Gardens
- Jae Gerhart, Washtenaw County Food Systems Coordinator at Michigan State Extension
- Amanda Edmonds, Mayor of the City of Ypsilanti and Executive Director at Growing Hope
- Charles Penner, Regional Director at Michigan Small Business Development Center
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
- 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.