In Emmet County, a baker has found a nearby farmer to grow bread-quality wheat. He’s grinding it into flour himself for a “local’s loaf” and a new market for farmers.
Schools are serving more locally grown food. Senior centers are starting to do so, too.
More and more training also supports the local food economy. The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District is supporting teachers in farm-to-school and school-garden curriculum so that students learn reading, math and science while learning to love eating healthy food.
And a whopping 62 percent of the business clients counseled by the Small Business Development Center of Networks Northwest last year were in the agricultural sector, up 22.9 percent from 2013.
These were just a few of the stories shared recently at the seventh annual Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network Summit. Network members — farmers, nonprofits, government officials, health professionals, community leaders and educators — gathered to share progress in the drive to support the local food sector.
The network is a unique organization in that there’s no office, no mailing address — not even a phone number. But their collective impact on the local food system is immense. The network unveiled at the summit its first “Report to the Community” charting progress in meeting its goal that the region’s food systems are more resilient and provide at least 20 percent of our region’s food by 2020.
Here are a few of the other stories shared at the summit:
— A study by the Leelanau Conservancy identified five of the most innovative tools across the country that could ensure that a next generation of farmers can afford land and keep farming.
— The long-awaited Grand Traverse Food Innovation Hub building, with 10 slots available for small-scale food processing and other uses, opened this spring in Traverse City. Contact Rob Sirrine of the MSU Extension for more information.
— New guilds throughout northern Michigan, supported by the nonprofit ISLAND, are providing an opportunity for people to share a variety of skills — from grain cultivation to bee keeping to mushroom growing.
— A recent study found that two-thirds of those who visit food pantries continue to struggle to feed themselves and their families, something that Network members want to address with local food opportunities.
And that Emmet County baker? That’s Greg Carpenter, of Crooked Tree Bread Works in Petoskey. He shared the experience of being surrounded by 50 pound bags of flour with no known origin. He wanted to find a solution to “the disconnect between the dough in my hands and the land around me.”
Through the Local Food Alliance of Northern Michigan, he connected with Jonathan Scheel, of Scheel Family Farms, only a mile away from his bakery. Winter wheat harvested from his test plot culminated in Breadworks’ “Local’s Loaf,” made entirely from the freshly ground wheat on Greg’s countertop stone mill.
Carpenter’s story is one of nearly 55 included in the network’s new report. View it online at www.mlui.org/ffn2015.
Meghan McDermott is a FoodCorps Service Member working out of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s farm to school program, and helping area schools to feature locally grown food in the cafeteria and classroom. This MLUI program is directed by Diane Conners who, at the summit, was awarded the Food & Farming Network’s 3rd annual Chapman Award named after John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed) for her work in the region’s local agriculture movement.