Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Higher Education

Campaign hopes to bring more Michigan food to the table

West Michigan is poised to lead the state in local food purchasing.

May 2, 2014
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Tomatoes are one of the Michigan crops that an organization will be promoting for use in local hospitals and schools. Courtesy Thinkstock

A new campaign launched last month by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the Ecology Center hopes to bring more Michigan-grown food to the table.

The statewide Cultivate Michigan campaign will focus on uniting farmers, food processors and food service directors in an effort to increase the amount of Michigan food served in institutions such as schools, child care centers, hospitals, and colleges and universities.

The goal is for food buyers to source 20 percent of their food products from Michigan growers, producers and processors by the year 2020.

This goal originates from the Michigan Good Food Charter, a guiding document developed in 2010 with input from farmers, food processors, researchers, food banks and nonprofits across Michigan, which outlines strategies to promote equity, sustainability and thriving economies through food systems.

A commitment already has been made by several Michigan hospitals and health systems toward making this goal a reality.

The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center worked with the Michigan Health & Hospital Association to secure pledges to purchase 20 percent of its food locally by 2020 for more than 100 hospitals. The campaign hopes to get other types of institutions to follow suit, including schools.

Surveys conducted by the Center for Regional Food show that in 2013, 68 percent of school food service directors purchased Michigan foods, and 82 percent were interested in starting or continuing local purchasing.

One of the greatest barriers to purchasing local foods seems to be time. Cultivate Michigan will provide several resources to help change that.

“Cultivate Michigan will provide resources that take the guessing game out of finding local food for West Michigan institutions and help save them time,” said Garrett Ziegler, community food systems educator with MSU Extension. “It will provide a platform for institutions to connect and develop stronger relationships with local food producers and suppliers.”

For instance, the campaign will feature four local, seasonally available foods each year.

Campaign staff will distribute toolkits that include recipes and marketing materials for each of the foods, and will provide support to help farmers, processers and suppliers understand the foods that institutions want in the forms they need.

Finally, campaign materials such as posters, signs, window clings and stickers will promote recognition of local foods among people eating at the institutions.

The four Michigan-grown, seasonally available  foods for 2014 are: asparagus, blueberries, tomatoes and apples.

“West Michigan is poised to lead the state in local food purchasing,” said Kendra Wills, community food systems educator with MSU Extension. “Our diverse and abundant agricultural product base and history of public-private collaboration gives us a distinct advantage.

“All of our schools, colleges and hospitals should be able to source local asparagus, frozen blueberries, Michigan apples and tomatoes in the fall. It does take some time and dedication to make this happen, but these products are abundant in our region.”

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