Michigan makes you think of cars instead of farms. But the truth is that, rich in biodiversity, the Wolverine State grows some of the best local produce in the U.S. Visit Eastern Market in Detroit, and you will be awed by the state’s bounty. But as in just about every other state, Michigan has its struggles with food access in rural and urban areas alike.
Michigan Good Food Fund, a nonprofit affiliated with Michigan State University, is determined to boost Michigan’s farming sector while increasing food access from the Upper Peninsula to the “thumb” in the southeast part of the state.
As drafted in a 25-point charter last year, the fund is aiming for a holistic approach to have Michigan organizations source more food from within the state. The program seeks to include food and agriculture in the state’s K-12 curriculum while expanding farming opportunities for students. The fund also is pushing for all Michigan institutions to source 20 percent of their food from within the state. In turn, Michigan farmers will supply 20 percent of food purchased in Michigan by 2020. The goals are ambitious, and finance is a big part of this push.
To that end, the program is offering loans to farms and business that can show they'll be part of Michigan’s push to expand food access. Various loan programs for small farmers as well as entrepreneurs will be available. Michigan Good Food is also advocating that state government agencies work together to expand access to financing for farmers. For example, one suggestion is a public-private partnership backing an Agriculture Individual Development Trust Fund, which would help farmers who are just starting out acquire collateral for farm loans.
Although the program’s main focus is to boost local food production by and for Michiganders, Michigan good food has its sights on larger business opportunities as well. Close to large markets in Canada and the Midwest, this program will also push state marketing efforts to include Michigan’s produce in the state’s promotional campaigns.
Despite the state’s potential to become a larger agricultural hub, much work needs to be done. The fund claims 59 percent of the state’s residents lack decent access to retail stores that offer healthy produce, meat and dairy. The organization calls for more food business districts, similar to Grand Rapids Downtown Market and Eastern Market in Detroit, which would attract businesses across the food sector while promoting entrepreneurship. A tougher call for which the fund advocates would be to establish more corner stores selling healthy food, though a business model in Washington, D.C., could offer some insight.
Five years is not much time to transform a state’s agriculture sector, but Michigan’s plan offers ideas for other regions looking for ways to ensure food security and sustainable development.
Image credit: Eastern Market
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.