Michigan Food Hub Network marks second year of progress

06/10/2014

By Rich Pirog, Senior Associate Director of MSU Center for Regional Food Systems

As the Michigan Food Hub Network (or “the Network”) celebrates its second anniversary in June 2014, marked progress is being reported on its primary goal to build the capacity of Michigan food hubs and its local supporting partners in order to strengthen local economies and better supply healthy food to underserved markets across the state.

The Network is co-convened by a project team of Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) and Morse Marketing Connections, LLC. For the past two years the Network has used statewide convenings, educational webinars, listserv communications, and technical services provided by local food hub facilitators and the project team to reach goals that align closely with the Michigan Good Food Charter.

Joan Nelson, executive director of Allen Neighborhood Center in Lansing said, “Frankly, developing a food hub at Allen Market Place would have been much more difficult had we not been involved with the Michigan Food Hub Network. We benefited from expert technical assistance provided by our regional facilitator, frequent and thought-provoking webinars with timely and pertinent content, the responsiveness and genuine support from Rich Pirog and CRFS, and frequent opportunities to meet and interact with others doing similar work around the State. We belong to a network of friends and respected colleagues—sharing ideas and lessons learned, swapping stories, and invested in one another’s success.”

In the last 12 months the Network placed new local food hub facilitators in Benton Harbor and Flint/Saginaw in addition to the existing facilitators already serving Detroit, Lansing, Traverse City, Ann Arbor, and several rural Michigan locations. The project team and local facilitators provided more than 20 presentations, three statewide meetings, and four educational webinars, reaching more than 1,000 people. Survey results show that 80 percent of Network participants believe the meetings and webinars are providing useful information, enhancing cooperation, and catalyzing the development of food hubs. Additional grant funding provided by MDARD in 2014 continues to leverage food hub activities in Detroit and Lansing as well as help launch a new food hub in Albion.  Expanded interest in starting food hubs also exists in Muskegon, Benton Harbor, Jackson and the Saginaw area of Michigan.

“Collaborating with other Food Hub leaders has spurred several initiatives that will increase variety and availability of more Michigan produce as we work together to link food hub to food hub,” said Christine Quane, wholesale market coordinator for Eastern Market in Detroit.

In year three of the project, the Network will continue statewide meetings and webinars and offer more customized learning opportunities for both “experienced” and “beginning” food hubs. A new CRFS academic specialist to be hired late summer and increased business support from Morse Marketing Connections LLC and other consultants will strengthen technical support on the ground for food hubs and their local partners. CRFS also will coordinate re-granting opportunities that further strengthen food hub capacity to supply low-income communities with healthy food and better prepare these hubs to participate in emerging programs such as the Michigan Healthy Food Financing Initiative. Continued research and outreach on business networks, benchmarks, technology needs, and food safety will further support Michigan food hubs and inform state policy decisions related to healthy food aggregation and distribution.

Rich Pirog, CRFS senior associate director and co-convener of the Network noted: “In year three the Network will develop shared measurement systems with other projects and networks working toward Michigan Good Food Charter goals so all our efforts are more synergistic and additive.”