As we move toward a developing a more healthy, sustainable food system in Michigan and beyond, there is a lot to consider. Because of the opportunities and challenges this shift presents, it is helpful to have a bigger picture understanding of how farmers and food businesses, distributors, consumers/eaters, and other components interact in the food systems that scale from local to global and back again.
The Michigan Good Food Charter defines food systems in this way:
A food system is all the people, processes and places involved with moving food from the seed the farmer plants to your dinner table, your local restaurant or the cafeteria lunch line. Food systems – from farming to processing and distributing, from retailing to preparing and eating, from all the farm inputs necessary for farm products to grow well, and finally to recycling and composting food wastes at each stage – exist at global, national, regional and community scales.
Part of that bigger picture are the barriers we face on the path to our vision for a more healthy, sustainable food system. Producers are at the heart of this issue and a major factor contributing to the success of small, beginning, and minority farmers and ranchers is the strength of the infrastructure of their local and regional food system. Are there nearby outlets to process food and agriculture products? What are the methods for delivery to local markets? Are there enough local and regional markets to support the producers working to meet rising consumer demand?
As more and more Michigan residents want to access to healthy, affordable, fair, locally grown food, we see many communities taking measures to address these challenges, increasing the connections between urban and rural communities through outlets like farmers markets (a 30% jump in 2011 in the number of Michigan farmers markets), and “food hubs.”
The USDA defines a food hub as “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” The USDA has reported that regional food hubs are having “significant economic, social, and environmental impacts within their communities,” despite most being relatively new.
All of this means that we have opportunities to collaborate across the food system to improve Michigan economies, communities, and environment while supporting local and regional producers. For more information on food systems and rural development national policy, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.