Case Study Series on Local Food Systems: Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor


A Michigan farmer's market. Photo courtesy Lindsey Scalera.  (view larger image)

A Michigan farmer's market. Photo courtesy Lindsey Scalera.

By Laura Goddeeris

Since the development of the Michigan Good Food Charter, which outlines a number of opportunities for local governments to advance its agenda priorities, interest in understanding and expanding the roles for municipal and county officials to support good food systems has persisted across the country. A series of case studies developed by the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and the International City/County Management Association’s Center for Sustainable Communities is a recent effort to further explore how and why local governments engage in food system development. Growing Local Food Systems: A Case Study Series on the Role of Local Governments may be useful to those working within and with local governments on marketing, coordination, policy and funding support for good food in Michigan.

Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor are among the communities profiled. The brief study highlights just a sample of activities in the region receiving city and county support, including farmers markets, the Washtenaw Food Policy Council, and other planning, policy and outreach efforts. Alongside stories from Decatur, Georgia; Catawba County, North Carolina; and Topsham, Maine; these Michigan communities provide progressive examples of both longstanding and more recent strategies, though all demonstrate a commitment to local food systems and have been successful in leading their growth.

While motivations, approaches, and allocated resources varied across all communities that were profiled, common themes emerged:

  • Local governments excel as conveners of different stakeholders and are adept at building partnerships that leverage resources and expertise throughout the community.
  • Local governments are well positioned to raise awareness of local food systems through campaigns, community events, and other outreach strategies. Efforts should be communicated and framed as aligning with as many community goals as possible for economic development, public health, environmental sustainability, and social equity.
  • Integration of food systems issues into local government plans and strategies provides opportunities to learn about and balance interests across internal departments and community stakeholders, to link disparate activities through a common language or agenda, and to set reasonable expectations for roles and anticipated outcomes.
  • Being inclusive can lead to additional, unexpected opportunities; local governments are encouraged to look beyond jurisdictional or geographic boundaries and define community more broadly when thinking about available resources and potential benefit.


To download the complete series or individual case studies, please visit: