Food Hub Networking in the UP

09/6/2014

Crops at the U.P Research and Extension Center's incubator farm in Marquette, MI. Photo courtesy of Rich Pirog and Abby Harper. (view larger image)

Crops at the U.P Research and Extension Center's incubator farm in Marquette, MI. Photo courtesy of Rich Pirog and Abby Harper.

By Abby Harper, MSU CRFS Food Hub Intern and student of Tufts University, MA

On Friday August 15th, 2014, the Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) Food Hub Learning and Innovation Network convened for their 6th statewide meeting in Marquette, Michigan.  These meetings, coordinated three times a year in various parts of the state, are an opportunity for food hubs and interested partners to come together to network, strategize, and learn from one another.  They also center on ridiculously good food.

The statewide convening was preceded on Thursday afternoon with a technology session for Michigan food hub leaders.  Participating food hubs had time to explore some of the nuanced technological needs specific to more developed organizations, and hypothesized opportunities for a shared IT platform that would allow hubs to communicate more easily and share resources between hubs.  This focus is evidence of the network’s emphasis on collaboration as a key component of promoting regional food systems and catalyzing food hubs.

Attendees at the statewide meeting listen to a presentation. Photo courtesy of Rich Pirog and Abby Harper.

Attendees at the statewide meeting listen to a presentation. Photo courtesy R. Pirog and A. Harper.

Participants were given the opportunity to tour the U.P. Research and Extension Center’s new incubator farm on Thursday evening.  Though the standard growing season in the UP is just 10 weeks, the farmers are making great strides to make the farm as productive as possible in that short time frame.  Though the project started just a few months ago, farmers and volunteers have already built a greenhouse for season extension, planted fields of squash, brassicas, and salad greens, and turned one level of the barn into a community space, with aspirations of it becoming a community space for coffee talks and knowledge sharing amongst Northern farmers.  Next year the farm will add one more crop – farmers!  The farm’s goal is to build capacity amongst participating farmers to further expand the U.P.s capacity for production and help farmers run successful businesses.

Given the unique northern location of the meeting, participants got an in depth look at what is being done “up North”.  One of the many highlights of the CRFS Food Hub learning and Innovation network day on the Friday was learning about the innovative food systems work developing in the Upper Peninsula.  Participants learned about the Upper Peninsula Group GAP Pilot project as well as the U.P. Food Exchange – a collaborative three-part food hub coordinated by the Marquette Food Coop, MSU Extension, and Western UP Health Department.  Presentations throughout the day included updates from MDARD, the UP Michigan Tribes food systems project, Northern Initiatives, Senator Stawbenaw’s office, and Michigan Saves.  The day was packed full with all that makes Michigan unique when it comes to food systems, and participants left energized, inspired, and ready to work together.