Environment Picture

Where did your dinner come from?

Farm markets, locally grown goods are 'greener' options for saving energy, sustainable land use
Editor’s note: Former MEC Policy Associate Kristin Brooks is now the coordinator of the Michigan Food Policy Council, established in 2005 by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. We asked our alumnus for thoughts on the Council’s report, released in the fall of 2006.

Q. Can you summarize the report for us?
A. Food is not only a basic necessity, but also an economic driver and a powerful tool for addressing complex community development and public health issues. In June 2005, Gov. Granholm recognized the opportunities in the state’s agri-food system by establishing the Michigan Food Policy Council. The Council was charged with bringing diverse food-related stakeholders together to recommend programs and policies that cultivate a safe, healthy and available food supply while building on the state’s agricultural diversity to enhance economic growth.
The Council issued a report of 20 consensus recommendations for the governor’s consideration. The proposal touches on topics ranging from supermarkets and farmers’ markets in underserved areas to “Buy Michigan First” campaigns and farmland preservation. Implementing the recommendations is key to agri-food system change in Michigan.

Q. Why should environmentalists care about Michigan food policy?
A. It’s easy to forget the powerful effect our food choices have on all aspects of the environment—from land and energy use to air and water quality. Food travels an average of 1,500 miles or more from the farm to the supermarket. Choosing local, Michigan foods reduces the number of “food miles,” resulting in lower transportation energy use and the higher likelihood that food is fresher and perhaps more flavorful and nutritious.

Urban sprawl threatens farmland as farmers look to find new markets for their products.

Between 1974 and 2002, almost 700,000 acres, or 6%, of Michigan’s farmland was converted to other uses. In the same time period, the number of farms in Michigan decreased by 17%. Farms and farmland contribute far more than jobs and dollars to Michigan’s well-being. They provide open space for recreation and views, food for Michigan residents, environmental benefits, and they represent a rural way of life that is an integral part of Michigan’s “personality.”

In order to stay viable and keep farmland in production, Michigan farmers can increase their share in growing markets, such as direct market sales in underserved neighborhoods, organic foods and other specialty products. The organic industry has grown nationally by 17%-21% each year since 1997, while all domestic food sales grew by only 2%-4% during the same period. Industry analysts predict the organic market will continue to grow at a rapid pace. Michigan currently has 205 relatively small organic farms1 and could capture a greater share of this market.

Q. What kind of reaction have you gotten to the report?
A. Reaction to the Council’s work and the report has been extremely positive. The governor was excited to receive the recommendations and pleased with the progress already underway. Copies of the report have been widely distributed, and many organizations have expressed interest in progress on particular recommendations and in aligning their efforts with those of the Council. Furthermore, the Council has received positive feedback from other states and localities interested in food policy. Many are impressed by the Council’s government support and involvement, stakeholder engagement and the integration of the recommendations. Michigan has become a leader in food policy.

Q. How will the state be different in 10 or 20 years if the report is implemented?
A. In the long run, Michiganians will have a greater awareness of and connection to the food they eat through the increased availability of healthy, Michigan foods for all consumers. The state’s increasingly robust agri-food economy and deepening agri-food system awareness will lead to more:
  • Farmland preserved
  • Grocery stores and farmer’s markets in underserved neighborhoods
  • Farm-to-school efforts
  • Organic and specialty food processing capacity
  • Community and urban gardens
  • Nutrition education programs
More information about the Council and a full copy of the report are available online at www.michigan.gov/mfpc. —————————
1A recent survey of Michigan’s organic farmers found the average organic farm to be 237 acres.

Michigan Food Policy Council Members
  • Directors or their appointees from the Michigan Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Economic Growth, Community Health, Education, Human Services, and Environmental Quality
  • Elaine Brown, Executive Director of Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS)
  • Jim Byrum, President of Michigan Agri-Business Association
  • Giancarlo Guzman, Community Facilitator for Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community
  • Michael Hamm, C.S. Mott Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State University
  • James Herbert, CEO of Neogen Corporation
  • Mattie Jordan-Woods, Executive Director of Northside Association for Community Development
  • Cheryl Kobernik, Co-Owner of North Star Organics
  • Jane Marshall, CEO of Food Bank Council of Michigan
  • Justin Rashid, Owner of American Spoon Foods, Inc.
  • Daniel Reeves, Executive Vice President of Associated Food Dealers of Michigan
  • Todd Regis, Political and Legislative Director of United Food and Commercial Workers
  • Dennis West, President of Northern Initiatives
  • Leland Wheaton, Principal of Charlotte High School
  • Todd Wickstrom, Co-Founder of Heritage Foods, USA
  • Wayne Wood, President of Michigan Farm Bureau
RELATED TOPICS: food policy
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