Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

July 6, 2013

Ag Forum: Local food and the economy

TRAVERSE CITY — It’s time to stop being apologetic about public support of local agriculture.

For decades, we in the ag community presented our case in quiet tones, asking consumers and retailers alike to give a gracious, if tentative, nod to locally-grown food. This soft-sell philosophy reflected the pastoral and diligent nature of the farmers and producers themselves. And, for a time, it worked.

Our local food system, and the mechanisms that surround and support it, have changed much over the past few years. Where there once were a small handful of organizations working to increase the impacts of small-scale agriculture, today there are many.

Taste the Local Difference (TLD) is one of the initiatives at the center of this discussion. It has had a decade of success connecting farmers with consumers. The TLD Food & Farm Guide is the iconic symbol of our small-farm community in northwest Michigan. In annual, pocket-sized, editions, it has listed a growing number of farms and food system partners. This year, we’re taking the successes of TLD and giving them an upgrade.

A year ago, with a cue from our food system partners, we took a step back to reexamine our view of how TLD serves the region. Today, with this new perspective, what we see is a strong agricultural community — one that’s getting a lot of attention. Yet there is still a missing piece, and that’s where we’ve decided to refocus our energies.

TLD is about to launch an aggressive local food marketing campaign. Our goal, along with the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network, is that “by 2020, the region’s food and farming systems are more resilient and provide at least 20% of our region’s food.” This is ambitious by any measure.

Marketing guru Paul Gillen says to market you must “…think like the customer.” Unapologetically, this is how TLD plans to reach this goal. To this end you’ll be seeing some major changes to the TLD program this year. There’s a new philosophy, a new look, a new logo, and an expansion of our most successful product, the TLD Food & Farm Guide—all of it designed from the point of view of you, the consumer.

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