Caption: Keynote speaker Amanda Shreve of the Michigan Farmers Market Association addresses the Around the Table conference last month.
The Local Food Alliance (LFA) of Northern Michigan, which works to enhance the culture of local food and farming in the Northern Farms Foodshed, will hold its next local food potluck on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 6-8 p.m., at the Boyne District Library in Boyne City. LFA meets the second Wednesday of each month at various locations around Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
LFA’s goals are to increase the demand for local farm products by inspiring and enabling people to consume more locally grown items; support education and skill building of local farmers, gardeners and consumers; transform the regional identity and economic environment for farming and related businesses, and expand engagement and increase their relevance to all stakeholders throughout the Northern Farms Foodshed.
The Alliance focused on the theme of food access during its fifth annual “Around the Table” conference last month at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey. More than 70 attendees heard keynote speaker Amanda Shreve of the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA) address market trends and expanding accessibility to farmers markets, under the theme of “Good Food for All”.
Panelists highlighted local work being done, including Kim Baker’s latest Produce for People initiative at Manna Food Project, Sarah Ulrich’s garden building at Habitat for Humanity homes, and Joe Van Alstine’s food distribution program for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. Breakout sessions following the panel discussion led to conversations about food assistance programs, finding the right prices for farmers, producers, and buyers, and the need to connect producers and buyers.
“We don’t want the same “broken” food system we currently have,” said breakout session facilitator and Michigan State University Extension program instructor Wendy Wieland. “We want relationships built on trust and transparency.”
Around the Table organizer, and long-time Local Food Alliance member, Larry Dyer, looks forward to the next steps. “In the coming months, we’ll be partnering with sister group, Food and Farming Network, and MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems to do a survey of food access in food pantries in Antrim and Benzie counties,” said Dyer.
Necessary action steps that emerged at the conference included organizing more pop-up farmers markets at schools, such as one at Pellston Public Schools’ open house in September that encouraged staff and students to choose local fruits, vegetables, and farm-fresh products.
A session about infrastructure and systems to connect producers and buyers led to an inventory of cold storage options in the region. “Food hubs” reappeared in the Local Food Alliance’s monthly potluck conversation as a need for aggregating farm products from small producers to meet the demands of institutional orders from bigger organizations including area schools or hospitals.
The conference included a locally-grown meal with bread from Crooked Tree Breadworks and food from the Grain Train Natural Foods Markets — two organizations that support locally-grown products.
To get involved in Around the Table community actions, such as researching regional cold storage options, organizing pop-up farmers markets at schools, or advocating for more benefits to low-income shoppers at farmers markets, contact Local Food Alliance member Larry Dyer at 231-881-2784, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jan. 9 potluck will be held in Petoskey. Follow the Local Food Alliance Facebook page for more information.