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January 29, 2012

Adventures in Local Food 14

Advantage Michigan

Advantage Michigan

Without even knowing that Michigan had just made the top 10 list for U.S. states with the most winter farmer’s markets, last month we celebrated the bounty of Southeast Michigan’s winter-time local food harvest. Thanks to season extension technology, the efforts of many to eat season-specific foods and the increasing popularity and availability of year-round markets, there is more locally-grown food available in the colder months and it is also easier to obtain than ever before. Winter local food has come to a location near you, so you should take advantage of it.

If you’ve been following Adventures in Local Food at all in the last year, you’ve probably noticed that  Michigan has some other advantages as well when it comes to the availability of locally-grown food. You may remember that Michigan, thanks in large to the varieties of fruit grown throughout the Great Lakes State, is second only to California in terms of agricultural diversity. And, although California does have a longer potential growing season, that growing season advantage is gradually being eroded by prolonged drought, the loss of farmland to development, the huge demand for out of season produce like tomatoes and the increasing number of farmers in colder places (like Michigan) extending the growing season with hoop houses, cold frames and other techniques. In addition, Michigan has the second highest number of independently-owned farms in the nation, and the number of small-scale growers and producers selling their wares at farmer’s markets and grocery stores, farm-direct through CSAs, to restaurants and elsewhere has been steadily increasing.

But that’s not all. The “Buy Michigan” movement has been gaining traction as well. For instance, when I first began my research on urban farming and the local food movement in California and Michigan back in 2007, the local food movement seemed to be primarily motivated by a concern for how food is grown, raised and produced. Wanting to “know your farmer” or wanting to reduce “food miles” (the distance food travels from field to fork) seemed to be the most commonly articulated reasons to buy from local producers.

However, since the economic downturn made things more politically, economically and socially volatile in this country, the most often articulated reason to buy local food that I now hear is the desire to support local businesses. For example, in a recent survey I conducted about the local food movement, 100% of respondents noted that they prefer to shop at independently-owned, local businesses, while almost all said that they support local food production in order to support local businesses. Furthermore, a survey of Washtenaw County independent businesses, sponsored by Think Local First of Washtenaw County, showed that 90% of the businesses surveyed agreed that public awareness about the positives of locally-owned businesses has increased since 2009.

The popular food movement slogan “Vote with your Fork” encapsulates this sentiment that food purchases can directly shape the character of our economies and political system and that they are no longer just about cost, flavor or “food miles.” In this sense, the local food movement shows us that changing the way we eat can have a direct impact not only on the economic livelihoods of producers and how food is grown and raised, but also on the character of community relations, public health, global economic inequality, resource scarcity and public policy. Local food shows people that they can play a role in bringing about positive changes in the food system and that their concerns about how food is produced, who is compensated, how it affects the environment and how it impacts inequality both at home and abroad are important. And, more often than not, the choice to buy local for one person often encourages friends and family to alter their consumption practices as well.


About the Author

Stefanie Stauffer
Stefanie Stauffer
Stefanie is a local food crusader and another awesome member of the iSPY team.

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