Traverse City Record-Eagle

Other Views

July 11, 2012

Another View: Local movement benefits state

It's a simple idea, really: Eating foods grown close to home is healthier.

Fresh produce eaten shortly after harvest has more nutrients, which is healthier for the eater. And it requires less transportation, which is healthier for the environment.

Not only that, eating locally produced food keeps more money circulating through local hands, generating jobs that keep Michiganders working — it's healthier for the economy.

Yet somehow, Michigan has not quite seized this opportunity to help itself.

The state that put the world on wheels is justifiably proud of its manufacturing heritage. But it should be equally proud of its rich agricultural heritage.

Agriculture is booming business, a vital sector of the state's economy. A March report from Michigan State University says the state's food and agriculture industries placed the economic impact at $91 billion.

Michigan is second only to California in the diversity of its agricultural operations; in 2010, it was the nation's top producer of cucumbers for pickles, squash, blueberries and tart cherries; it's among the top producers of carrots, asparagus, apples and sweet cherries.

Yet, most Michiganders don't savor enough locally grown foods on their own tables. And not enough Michiganders speak proudly of this bounty, certainly not the way Californians celebrate their harvest as elevating their quality of life and as a tourism draw.

Fortunately, bright minds are working on how to change that, and their game plan, the Michigan Good Food Charter, is worth reading. It highlights the urgency, particularly as the state's farmers age, putting future production question. And it offers strategies for strengthening local food systems and supporting increased demand for local food by nurturing new ag-related businesses.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who chairs the Senate's Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, notes that if every household spent just $10 on locally grown food, that would put $40 million back into the state's economy. Stabenow is a key leader on creating better farm policies, and the farm bill under consideration in Congress right now includes a number of efforts that will help Michigan, including increased support for local food hubs, farmers markets and community gardens.

Enjoying Michigan's fresh harvest will help boost the state's economy and its health — a delicious reward for all.

-- Lansing State Journal

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