Editor's note: With better access to local food and increased awareness of its health benefits, everyday people are jumping on the local food bandwagon. But a few organizations across the Upper Peninsula aren't content with providing local food on a small scale, and banded together to create the U.P. Food Exchange. This four-part series will focus on the efforts of that organization, and the Central U.P. Food Hub in particular, in bringing local food to a broader audience Today, public funds used to further that goal are examined.
MARQUETTE - Local food hubs and regional food systems play an integral role in increasing access to locally grown food at the ground floor.
Those organizations need plenty of funding to carry out that mission, and with millions of dollars in state and federal funding tied to increasing the availability of local food, some are getting just what they need.
Locally grown logo (Journal Graphic by Selena Hautamaki)
The state of Michigan in particular is truly putting its money where its mouth is, offering several incentive programs to low-income families in the hopes that more people will purchase Michigan-made fruits and vegetables.
And with the second most diverse agricultural output in the nation, Michigan residents have a plethora of products to choose from.
Marquette Food Co-op community liaison Natasha Lantz said the Michigan Good Food Charter - created in 2010 by people representing "anyone who eats," according to Lantz - is being adopted by organizations across Michigan. The charter outlines a number of goals to achieve by 2020, such as having 20 percent of food purchased in Michigan come from Michigan, and to incorporate food and agriculture in the pre-kindergarten though 12th grade curriculum for all Michigan students.
Coordinator of the good food charter Kathryn Colasanti said gains were already being made in achieving some of those goals.
"We're making a lot of progress, and one thing that we need to do is do a better job of actually measuring the extent of that progress, to collect all that data," Colasanti said. "I can say that some of the institutions in Michigan, some of the hospitals have really made purchasing local a priority, so it is happening."
Lantz said the Michigan Food Policy Council, which has also adopted the Michigan Good Food Charter, just made its first recommendation to the governor in seven years regarding food policy in the state. Lantz sat on a subcommittee of that council and helped formulate a recommendation on local farmers.
The state has also begun to slowly reverse the stereotype of the high cost of local food, allowing Michigan BRIDGE Cards to be used in farmers markets and offering a fairly new program, Double Up Food Bucks, which matches the amount of money people eligible for the program spend at farmers markets on fruits and vegetables, up to a certain dollar amount.
Lantz said the Downtown Marquette Farmers and Artists Market has used the Double Up Food Bucks program for the past two years. The Gwinn Farmers Market also uses the program.
The Marquette market was able to incorporate the program thanks in part to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the USDA, the Downtown Marquette Farmers and Artists Market in 2011 received $46,000 in federal grant money to increase electronic benefits transfers and farmer participation at the market.
And with more than 1.7 million people using BRIDGE cards in Michigan in August, according to the Michigan Department of Human Services, more than $238 million was spent on the purchase of food, some of which was spent at farmers markets.
A total of 4,163 of those BRIDGE cards were used in Marquette County that month, resulting in a return to the county of more than $1 million in state tax dollars.
Hoophouses for Health, a program run by the Michigan Farmers Market Association, allows low-income families to assist farmers in paying back loans they have secured to build hoophouses on their farms by offering vouchers through local Head Start agencies for individuals to use at participating farms or farmers markets.
Farmers can then give those vouchers to MIFMA, the value of which is deducted from their loan amount as "repayment." Farmers have up to five years to pay back the loan, with zero interest.
According to the program's website, www.mifma.org/hoophouses-for-health, 13 farmers markets were participating in the program at the close of the 2012 season.
Michigan's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has also been offering grants to local institutions looking to create or sustain regional food systems, offering a $165,000 grant to help create the U.P. Food Exchange, according to Lantz.
Wednesday: While federal and state funding is becoming increasingly available to organizations looking to expand local food hubs, the real work has to be done at the local level. And as awareness of local food increases, so does the desire for people to grow their own food, including raising animals. Wednesday's installment in this series will focus on efforts by one local municipality to govern the availability of this type of local food.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.