Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 16, 2013

Ag Forum: Summit on community food systems

By Rob Sirrine and Susan Cocciarelli
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Cheesemaking, biological farming, local food distribution, farmer financing, and more.

The variety of topics covered at northwest Lower Michigan’s 5th annual Farm Routes to Prosperity Summit, held March 12 at NMC’s Hagerty Center, was exhilarating. Attended by more than 125 people from across the region representing all aspects of the agri-food system, the summit offered participants a chance to celebrate successes over the past year and hear noteworthy updates from the Grand Vision’s Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network.

In the morning, Gary Derrigan, Traverse City Area Public Schools food service director, discussed TCAPS’ role in the region’s burgeoning Farm to School movement by referring to his collaboration with other area school foodservice directors and Leelanau Fruit to get local strawberries on their menus. Nic Welty, farmer and agri-entrepreneur from 9 Bean Rows, talked about a new farmer consortium and food hub initiative that will supply several of the region’s school districts with locally grown, washed and processed vegetables.

Bill Palladino, MLUI senior policy specialist, provided an update on the Taste the Local Difference marketing program and efforts to increase the consumption of local food to 20 percent by 2020.

Vic Lane, Misty Acres Farm, discussed the farm’s participation in the MSU grass-fed beef/rotational grazing program and development of a new education and demonstration farm in partnership with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

Sue Vigland, Hagerty Insurance wellness director, gave a presentation on the company’s efforts to get local food to employees by hosting a farmers market and cooking classes and by setting up an online system to order produce from a group of local farmers who deliver it right to their workplace.

Brandon Seng of Goodwill Food Rescue explained new efforts to increase food access to the region’s underserved residents: Who knew kale chips could be so popular?

On the economic development and jobs front, Steve Nance, Oryana’s General Manager, provided an overview of local investment opportunities, the triple bottom line and how dollars spent on local businesses recirculate throughout our community.

Annie Shetler, agriculture business counselor with MI-SBTDC, relayed important information on pathways that are emerging for jobs and careers in community food systems.

We were fortunate to hear from Brian Mitchell from Cherry Growers on the company’s applesauce lines. Laura Galbraith of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce discussed a fund that will fill a gap in capital for emerging farms and related food entrepreneurs.

All in all, the Summit was a great way to spend a snowy March day with folks from around the region who are interested in furthering our local community food system. For more information on the Food and Farming Network, please visit

Rob Sirrine is a community food systems educator with MSU Extension and Susan Cocciarelli is a specialist, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and NWMCOG.