Introducing the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange
By Natasha Lantz, Marquette Food Co-op and Michelle Walk, Michigan State University Extension
The U.P. Food Exchange (UPFE) is a newly formed agricultural hub designed to connect local food activity within each of the Upper Peninsula’s three regions (eastern, central, and western). It will establish both online and physical aggregation sites for farm products, improve local food storage, as well as educate farmers, consumers, and institutions about the benefits available through the network.
A strong local food system is the core of UPFE’s mission. Food doesn’t just sustain our bodies—it sustains our communities, too. Producers take pride in what they do. UPFE helps U.P. producers as well as the local economy, contributes to regional food security, and ensures that more people have access to the freshest foods available.
UPFE was created through a Regional Food Systems Grant from Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development awarded to the Marquette Food Co-op in November of 2012. MSU Extension’s Michelle Walk and the Marquette Food Co-op’s Natasha Lantz are responsible for overall development of UPFE and coordination of activities in the central and eastern U.P., with the Western U.P. Health Department’s Ray Sharp and Sara Salo overseeing activities in the west.
Michelle Walk of MSU Extension shares information about local food systems with stakeholders in the Western U.P.
The initial project spans 15 months, beginning with website and online marketplace creation, then moving into physical enhancement of existing storage/aggregation facilities. Developing and distributing resources for farmers, consumers and institutions will occur throughout the project. UPFE has already designated food aggregation sites at Harmony Health Foods in Sault Ste. Marie and the Marquette Food Co-op in Marquette. The search for a western aggregation site is ongoing. These aggregation sites will provide their regions with the resources to provide for the specific food needs of that region.
UPFE’s activities are a crucial part of the process of making agriculture a growing and sustainable part of the U.P.’s economy again. Serving as a cohesive network for U.P. farmers, many of whom have been operating in isolation, UPFE will bring these farmers together to share resources, thus strengthening each individual operation. The U.P. is geographically remote from resources, making sharing all the more valuable. As an informational and infrastructural hub, UPFE helps farmers share knowledge and provides the agencies working with these farmers a mechanism to reach audiences in an efficient, effective manner.
Two key features that will be developed on the website are the U.P. Food & Farm Directory and the Online Marketplace:
U.P. Food & Farm Directory
Since 2005, the Marquette Food Co-op has published the U.P. Food & Farm Directory to highlight local farms selling products and services directly to the public. Products like vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, trees, meat, dairy, fish, eggs, honey, maple syrup, and fiber are listed, as well as the farms, markets and retailers where you can buy them. This year the whole directory is going digital! Farmers can update their own listings, and you can search the U.P.-wide directory by product, farm, or region to find exactly what you need.
The online market will allow individuals and institutions to purchase local food from around the Upper Peninsula. Buyers and sellers will create accounts within their regional marketplace. The online marketplace is currently in the testing phase, and will be accessible on the UPFE website once the system is fully operational.
For more information:
Natasha Lantz, Community Liaison, Marquette Food Co-op
Michelle Walk, Extension Educator, MSU Extension
Ray Sharp, Manager, Community Planning & Preparedness, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department