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Group helps municipalities with policies

A resident in Marquette tends to their backyard bees. (Courtesy photo)

MARQUETTE — In response to growing public interest and awareness surrounding agriculture and locally-sourced food, the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange’s Policy Committee is working with communities across the region to provide education and draft regulations, and advocate for public policy that supports the growth of community food systems.

The committee — comprised of local food leaders, educators, local government officials, conservationists and farmers — meets monthly to work on local government policies and regulations that affect community food systems across the U.P.

Most recently, the committee helped the city of Marquette draft language for its newly implemented land development code that includes permissive standards for local food production. Under the updated code, new guidelines were set for season extension structures and the keeping of small animals — chickens, rabbits and bees — within city limits.

Genuine community interest in urban agriculture became apparent in 2011 when the Marquette Food Co-op hosted a presentation on “Raising Your Own Chickens” at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center. More than 100 residents attended, and the presentation was supported by various local organizations, farms and even local officials who were interested in implementing new policies surrounding food.

Following the presentation, more people began to take interest, with groups like Transition Marquette, the Superior Beekeeping Club and Marquette Growth, along with the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange, leading the charge by educating residents and inspiring them to become more active participants in their food system.

“These groups are representative of a national groundswell in culinary and agricultural awareness,” said Sarah Monte, Marquette Food Co-op outreach director and UPFE Policy Committee member. “While individual members of a city, township or village may want to be responsive to culture shifts in what residents’ desire for their community, making those changes requires a tremendous amount of time and effort.”

While city officials were working on the new code, the UPFE Policy Committee provided assistance, connecting them with leading experts in the field and appropriate resources to streamline the process.

Sarah Mittlefehldt, of the Marquette Planning Commission, said the research and advice the UPFE Policy Committee provided was invaluable.

“They helped us think about what best practices look like in urban agricultural systems, particularly in regard to chickens and beekeeping,” Mittlefehldt said. “They helped us to craft policy for the city that was based on both science and community input. In my view, that’s democracy at its best.”

The policy committee has developed several original guides to help communities better understand local food systems and how regulations might be getting in the way of their success.

For example, the committee references technical documentation including the state of Michigan “Urban Livestock Workgroup Recommendations Report” and the “Care of Farm Animal Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices,” said Brad Neumann, MSU Extension educator and UPFE Policy Committee member.

The Policy Committee’s “Resource Guide to Community Food Systems” provides information on the benefits of a local food economy and also touches on the important local government consideration of the Michigan Right to Farm Act, PA 93 of 1981, as amended.

“With education and technical assistance tied to the latest science-based information, our group is trying to enable more communities, like Marquette, to take the steps to cultivate flourishing food systems throughout the U.P.,” Neumann said.

Local municipalities looking to revise public policy or educate their community about the importance of strong local food systems can request help from the policy committee by contacting Sarah Monte at smonte@marquettefood.coop. Visit upfoodexchange.com/resources-2/ to find sample documents, resources and more.

“The committee is dedicated to the ideals of the Michigan Good Food Charter — food should be healthy, green, fair and affordable,” said Monte. “We look forward to working alongside municipalities, community groups and individual residents to make this a reality.”

The U.P. Food Exchange connects local food activity within each of the Upper Peninsula’s three distinct regions (eastern, central, and western), and coordinates local food efforts between the regions. This project aims to establish both online and physical aggregation sites for farm products, improve local food storage capacity, and educate consumers, farmers, and institutional purchasers about the resources and benefits available to them via the Exchange.

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