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Importance of food: Session to connect dots

By Mark Urban

AP Exchange

TRAVERSE CITY — Four previous conferences have brought valuable information to the area on the importance of local food.

The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities offered Farms, Food and Health Conferences in 2014 and 2016 and added Culinary Medicine Training in 2017. It followed up with a half-day Cultivating Community Resilience session in March.

Now it’s time to “connect the dots between all three of those sectors,” according to Paula Martin, food and farming policy specialist at the Groundwork Center.

The Farms, Food & Health with Culinary Medicine Training conference is set for Sept. 26-29. Munson Healthcare and the Great Lakes Culinary Institute join the Groundwork Center as hosts of the event.

“This is a national-level, high-quality conference right in our backyard,” said Martin, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. “We’re really excited to bring this to the community.”

“We’re combining those two ideas that are very, very clearly related,” added Jeff Smith, communications director for the Groundwork Center.

The public highlight of the four-day conference is Friday at the Hagerty Center.

The day begins with a free Public Expo from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. that includes educational discussions, cooking demonstrations and book signings with the three keynote speakers.

The speakers are scheduled for 5-9:30 p.m. at a ticketed event that will include an audience question-and-answer session, hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. The evening session is $25.

“Friday is the day for the public,” Smith said. “You have a lot of great information for free or for just 25 bucks.”

The trio of speakers represent the tenets of the conference: Dr. Steven Rivard (Farms) of the Iroquois Valley Farmland Real Estate Investment Trust on organic farming and human health, Oran Hesterman (Food) of Fair Food Network on healthy food access and Dr. Drew Ramsey (Health) of Columbia Psychiatry on behavioral health and nutrition.

“There are some really remarkable national speakers,” Smith said. “They are people who really believe in what local food can do, not only for northern Michigan, but also to the nation.”

Martin said the evening session with the speakers is designed so that there is plenty of room. Tickets are still available.

The Farms, Food & Health conference goes beyond Friday’s activities. There are educational tracts and tours in both the health and food sectors scheduled all four days.

Other featured national speakers are scheduled for breakfast. Deanna Minnich, teaching clinician at Food & Spirit LLC will give an address the morning of Sept. 28 while Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark, the coordinator of integrative medical education at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, will speak the morning of Sept. 29.

Physicians, nurses and dietitians can earn up to 17.5 Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits. School nutrition staff can also qualify for Professional Standards Training hours.

Even though the tracts are separate and have different pricing, the conference has several events that unite the health and food sectors together.

“Some of the sessions are blended,” Martin said. “A food pantry volunteer will be sitting next to a cardiologist at some point at this conference.”

“It’s a whole attempt to break down the silos that exist in the two professions,” Smith added. “Bringing everybody together and getting the communication going will get to the solutions faster.”

Smith said the blended conference is another example of how the region is proving to be a national leader in farms, food and health.

“They look to us as to what a local food economy can be,” he said. “It’s another example on how our local food community is standing tall on the local-food scene.”

More information about the conference is available at www.farmsfoodheath.org.

“This is a national-level, high-quality conference right in our backyard. We’re really excited to bring this to the community.” Paula Martin, food and farming policy specialist at the Groundwork Center