Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 3, 2013

Guide boosts food-related businesses

BY MARY BEVANS GILLETT Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A new guide released by the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments offers examples and how-to’s to help communities grow their own regional food systems.

COG developed “Food Innovation Districts: An Economic Gardening Tool” in partnership with Regional Food Solutions, LLC, and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.

The guide is available online and in print and can be used by local governments, agribusiness advocates, community builders and related stakeholders to support endeavors that benefit from the growing demand for local and regional foods.

It includes examples, tools and action steps that can be used as a template for other communities to follow.

“We want to grow food and agricultural entrepreneurship. These are absolutely economic drivers,” said Sarah Lucas, Regional Planner at Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. “Studies show that if there was strong support, we could add 69,000 jobs in Michigan.”

Lucas said the team worked with state and national stakeholders to define food innovation districts, research examples, create templates and identify and explain implementation steps.

“Ideally, communities can use this to supplement their own initiatives and incorporate local food into local initiatives,” she said.

A food innovation district is a geographic concentration of food-oriented businesses, services and community activities. Participating businesses may be food processors, retailers, facilities or services. Such districts can promote positive business environments, spur regional food system development and increase access to local food, when combined with local planning and economic development initiatives.

Proximity is key, and offers a cluster of food-related businesses and entrepreneurs the opportunity to share resources, information, client base, ideas and support.

The Village at the Traverse City Commons is evolving as a food innovation district with a host of food related businesses and events. Higher Grounds, Left Food Charley, Underground Cheesecake Company, Pleasanton Bakery, TASTES of Black Stars Farms and Trattoria Stella are within steps of each other. And they’re complemented by a weekly indoor farmers market and regular events that showcase regional foods and spirits.

Operations are enhanced with shared facilities, communications and other economies of scale.

“A regional food hub takes the concept of locally sourced foods to another level … and makes it possible for more local foods to reach more people,” said Raymond Minervini, partner at the Minervini Group. “It’s a local aggregation point for local produce for local consumers.”

The guide is designed as a resource that can be used throughout the state and well beyond Michigan’s borders.

“Northwest Michigan is a driving force because we have such a strong food and farm economy,” Lucas said. “But this came out of a state document, the Michigan Good Food Charter, so it made sense to use it regionally and statewide.”

“Food Innovation Districts: An Economic Gardening Tool” is available online at s. Hard copies are available by contacting the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments at 231-929-5000.