Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

October 12, 2013

Agirculture Forum: Local food, the twenty percent goal


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TRAVERSE CITY — The Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network — a working group of the Grand Vision — has set an ambitious goal: by 2020, the region’s food and farming systems are more resilient and provide at least 20 percent of our region’s food.

While northwest Michigan is blessed with an abundance of fruit, a person can only eat so many Honeycrisp apples. In order to make progress toward and move beyond the 20 percent goal, we will need to grow and raise a diversity of crops. One sector of the agri-food system that is gaining popularity and may help our region achieve its 20 percent goal is locally-raised, grass-fed livestock or “animal proteins.”

There are several benefits to investing in local pasture-based livestock systems. First, it provides you, the consumer, with an up-close and personal connection with the farmer who grows your food. With what seems like food-borne illnesses occurring every week at the national scale, many local farmers encourage customers to visit their farms, see their operations first-hand, and even take place in the harvesting process. Second, the Grand Traverse region is increasingly recognized for its local food scene, award-winning restaurants, and demand for locally grown proteins. Third, the region has abundant pasture land that could be used for increased protein production. Finally, purchasing from a local farmer helps keep dollars circulating throughout the regional economy, increasing the resilience of our region.

Based on 2012 U.S. per capita meat consumption and the 2012 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics prices for proteins, annual retail sales for proteins is roughly $57 million for Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, and Kalkaska Counties combined. Increasing current local production and consumption by 20% would inject at least $11 million to the regional economy.

For those with an interest, there are several educational opportunities available to help develop this growing sector. Dr. Jason Rowntree, who works at the MSU Lake City Ag BioReasearch Center, recently received a USDA grant to develop low-cost, pasture-based beef production systems in northwest Michigan. The grant seeks to improve the economics of small and medium-size beef producers and works with chefs to increase carcass utilization. Dr. Rowntree isn’t alone in this endeavor.

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