West Michigan Growing Connections Food Summit 2013 - Event Summary
This summit brought together West Michigan farmers, businesses, community organizations, educators and students in order to develop and strengthen community partnerships while exploring solutions for local, sustainable, food economies.
Bill Bobier - Senior Policy Analyst, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, State of Michigan
Rachelle Bostwick - Founder and Head Farmer, Earthkeeper Farm and West Michigan Growers Association
Anne Scott - Specialist, Center for Regional Food Systems
Levi Gardner - Sustainable Agriculture Project Farm Manager and Grower, Grand Valley State University
Issue Area: Food Access
The issue of Food Access, as defined through this summit, refers to the following: Misperceptions of available means to access food, lack of education and/or engagement with food production systems, stereotypical views regarding food assistance programs, and food deserts. In short, food access refers to the availability of quality food that both supports and engages residents of individual neighborhoods.
Food access issues are created and perpetuated by the following: Lack of transportation, education, and participation; proximity of “good” (read: healthy) food; unwillingness to accept/judgment of food assistance programs.
Through collaboration with partner agencies (e.g. food banks/pantries), we can work to develop alternative food delivery systems and eliminate food deserts. To further increase food access, inter-neighborhood connections may be established. These connections, created through peer-education and empowerment, can give way to community garden projects, which will produce a yield of healthy and accessible food.
The working group attached to this issue area plans to do the following over the next 30 days:
Develop an internal database, through which they will share contacts, resources, recipes, etc.
Issue Area: Food Justice and Sovereignty
A discussion centered on the issues of food justice and sovereignty led to a meditation on worker injustice. Said injustices manifest as labor exploitation or wage theft, commonplace practices of a Capitalist system (read: profit-motivated and exploitative).
A radical solution would involve the dismantling, and restructuring, of global food systems. The working group attached to this issue area has proposed the following regional action steps:
The Grand Rapids-based “Bartertown Diner” was offered as a working model of achievable sovereignty, as its employees all have equal say in conversations regarding the establishment. In addition to the Bartertown model, the group has decided to reconvene on May 30th at 7pm in the Winter Hall of Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus. The purpose of this meeting will be to begin research into discovering, and connecting with, local justice and sovereignty-focused organizations. Ideally, this meeting will lead to the development of a “Regional Food Justice Document of Expectations.”
Issue Area: Healthy, Local Food in Institutions
A discussion centered on the barriers to more local food being purchased, prepared and served in institutions. Some of the identified barriers are unclear policies/regulations with major food providers and institutions; limitations by existing food service contracts and economies of scale for local foods (price, consistency, and reliability).
Several existing resources were identified to help overcome the aforementioned barriers: Farmlink; Local co-ops; CSA programs; and the MSU Extension Program.
· Education and training programs for food service directors on purchasing local foods
· Working with major food providers like Sysco, GFS and Aramark
· Move commodity farmers to grow produce for institutions
· Start small and grow integration of local foods at institutions
· Connect food service directors with growers so they can plan what produce (and how much) so the grower can plant crops accordingly
· Use technology to improve communications and reduce cost
Issue Area: Entrepreneurism and Food Systems
In order to change food systems-based entrepreneurialism, we must restructure the system in such a way as to allow for business owners to connect with one another, sharing their knowledge and resources.
A restructuring is needed as there is currently no platform for discourse between local entrepreneurs. By providing such a framework or organization, we provide a venue for interaction, collaboration and educational support. Through the preceding, we work to provide existing businesses with the information needed to retrofit their structures with sustainable practices. In addition, interested parties are provided with the information necessary for start-up.
The working group connected to this issue area referenced the Grand Rapids brewery scene as an example of a collaborative community. In addition, they have tasked themselves with the creation of a ListServ, which will be used to continue the conversation and information/connection culling. Ideally, the materials shared through the ListServe will inform the development of a database containing the contact information of local individuals/organizations.
Issue Area: Farming Internship Programs
Through educational programs (e.g. farm-based internships), students are provided with an opportunity for experiential and/or service-learning. By attracting students during the early, formative stages of their development, we work to familiarize said individuals with alternative pathways to success. Farmers, community organizations, and students stand to benefit from this partnership.
Our working group generated the following list of organizations that can connect students and farmers:
· Farm Club (GVSU)
· Muskegon Public Health
In addition, an open source, self-updating model (e.g. database or monthly potluck) is being created as a platform for information/skills exchanges. Further, our working group is interested in using this tool to developing/facilitating educational workshops.
Grand Valley State University
GVSU is committed to the following action steps:
· The creation of a ListServ (communication)
· The coordination of monthly or quarterly potlucks
· The formation of a larger planning committee for the next food summit
Click here for more images from the Summit.
Page last modified June 3, 2013