Local Food Alliance of Northern Michigan: Building Networks of Support for Local Food Systems
The Michigan Local Food Council Network brings together food councils to build their individual and collective capacities to work on food and food policy issues. This article is Part 2 in the series, “Working Together for Good Food,” which highlights the work of local food councils across Michigan.
By Kathleen Reed, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and Scott Smith, Local Food Alliance of Northern Michigan
The Local Food Alliance of Northern Michigan was formed in 2012 as a gathering place and a way to build networks among those interested in advancing and promoting the local food economy of Emmet and Charlevoix Counties and their surrounding foodshed. The Alliance is a volunteer-based group, with over half of its core membership composed of organizations connected to local foods and/or farming issues, including MSU Extension, Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology (formerly ISLAND), North Central Michigan College, Grain Train Natural Foods Market, the Friendship Centers of Emmet County, and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. Non-organizational members, including several area farmers, are those interested in and supportive of strengthening local food systems in Northern Michigan.
The Alliance’s initial focal areas included:
- Increasing awareness and education around the value of local foods and farms,
- Enhancing knowledge and skills of local farmers, gardeners, and consumers through educational programming,
- Building markets and infrastructure around local food and farming systems in this region, and
- Implementing projects that bring about change in the local food economy.
Throughout these four focal areas is the desire for the Alliance to work as a catalyst alongside other local organizations to promote and grow the local food and farm economy in Northern Michigan.
Impact on Local Community
Since its inception, the Local Food Alliance of Northern Michigan has organized three “Around the Table” conferences that have brought together farmers, businesses, organizations, and other supporters to share ideas and identify opportunities for collaboration around food and farming in their area.
The Alliance has published a number of documents, including “A Portrait of Emmet County’s Local Food-Farm System,” focused on existing resources for farmers, producers, and consumers, and on steps to take to advance and strengthen food and farming systems in the region. The Alliance also published two “State of Local Agriculture” papers, in 2014 and 2015, for the annual State of Community luncheons organized by the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Another area of work for the Alliance has been catalyzing a “Farm to Senior” program at the Friendship Centers of Emmet County to incorporate locally-grown produce into its meals, and the beginnings of Farm to School programs locally. The Alliance also actively supported a “Farm to Frame” photography contest to showcase local food and farming and raise awareness about the benefits of local food. The awards ceremony for the first Farm to Frame contest in 2012 helped anchor “Local Foods Week,” which has grown into a month-long celebration of local food and farming. Farm to Frame continues as an annual event sponsored by the Crooked Tree Arts Center.
Looking to the Future
The Alliance hopes to continue to further advancement in Northern Michigan around:
- Increasing Farm to School initiatives,
- Building local food and farming infrastructure, and
- Raising awareness and building support for local food systems in Northern Michigan, including building upon work that is currently being done.
The Alliance is currently developing a program to expand its capacity to identify and implement projects in priority areas. A key element of this program is to hire a Local Food and Farming Coordinator, who would be partnered with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and would act as a facilitator and catalyzer of the local food work being done in the community.
The Local Food Alliance of Northern Michigan believes that this region holds significant potential for local food production, and is seeing encouraging signs of increased awareness and involvement in local food and farming systems in Northern Michigan. The Alliance hopes to continue to find ways to partner and collaborate with other organizations in Northern Michigan as well as across the state to make regional agricultural revitalization a reality.