Food Forward MI: An Introduction

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Daily we hear that demand for fresh water, energy and food are rising. This causes many great concern and at times a sense of hopelessness, as media digestion can leave us reaching for antacids.

A Growing Crisis: Food and Energy Shortages

farm-500658_1920According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, across the globe, agriculture accounts for about 70% of our fresh water draw. The FAO estimates that about 60% more food than currently produced will be required to feed the world population by 2050 and total agricultural water withdrawals will increase by 10%.

Many states within the US are already facing a shortage. Energy consumption is also increasing at an even faster rate and projected to double by 2035. While this allows us to be more connected than ever before, we are currently facing a widening health and income gap within the US and Michigan. It is here that our communities are poised and have significant opportunity to be healthier, smarter, faster and more self-reliant by tuning in to our own local food systems within the mitten state.

Food Deserts in Michigan: A Growing Problem

As the second most agriculturally diverse state (California being the first) and with abundant fresh water, Michigan has the potential to lead the way into the new millennium as the agricultural powerhouse. However, with this wealth of produce and increasing number of farm market operations, about 30% of our population is still found to be obese by the National Center for Chronic Disease Preventionmcdonalds-904054_640 and Health Promotion. This indicates a lack of healthy food access – and the USDA reports that many Michigan cities are home to overlapping census track designated “food deserts.”

A food desert is defined as an urban or rural community where residents who do not own a car or have access to public transportation and there is no place one may walk to buy groceries.

Therefore, shopping is typically done at a convenience store with limited offerings of fresh, healthy foods. Not coincidentally, Michigan also ranks higher than the national average in population living below the poverty line. Within Lansing’s north region alone, about 24 food desert tracks overlap, and all children within the Lansing School District are on the free and reduced lunch program.

Quality of Life, Employment and Food Access Are Inextricably Linked. 

As we find ourselves in the middle of this predicament, one blog can’t address it all. However, we do have some influence over how our communities and households react, or proactively act, to address this situation. In fact with small changes, individuals and organizations seemingly unrelated to one another can affect the greater web of sustainable development within their community and our state.

Opportunities to Educate and Engage

education-662458_640Taking a look at these opportunities through the rest of 2015 and 2016, the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan and Prima Civitas will be sharing regional, state and federal level opportunities and “food for thought” about how individuals and communities can make change within their own regions through the lens of food access and education for K-12.

Some may filter food and K-12, determining this discussion does not impact them or their work. However, there is opportunity for all to learn about our food systems, including our talent, innovations, natural resources and policy impacting each and every one in this myriad of challenges and growth.  Many conversations are taking place around governance, purchasing, production, people and our great state’s potential to step forth as a global leader in agriculture.

Actions Creating Impact

Do you eat? The answer is yes. Do the young people in your life eat? The answer is yes. How can we collectively set forth at the institutional and neighborhood levels to better meet our health, environment, educational and economic needs?  Your actions impact the entire supply chain though most reading this are likely on the consumer end – and that is the true beginning. All readers effect the supply and value chains of this state’s sustainability and economic growth – a finely balanced scale that you are able to help keep at level growth.

Avenues for Change and ConsiderationANC Food Hub2

Therefore, in partnership, it is our hope to deliver this Michigan update and opportunity blog to offer avenues for change and consideration, that members may be more empowered to impact their community, clientele, constituents and/or household. Through 2016, we’ll take a look at innovative ideas like food hubs as economic drivers for the physical and economic health of our state, food innovation districts, educational and talent pipelines, food policy councils and urban farming. We’ll also offer a snap shot into the interconnection between farm to fork and much in between. How does local food access really affect our state, our health and our children? Let’s go on a tour and find out….

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mary-zumbrunnenAbout the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the Director of Talent & New Market Initiatives at Prima Civitas, a statewide economic development non-profit catalyzing Michigan. She holds a BS in agriculture and natural resource communications from Michigan State University (MSU) and an MS in community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies, also from MSU. Currently she is pursuing a master of business administration. A small business owner and backyard farmer, Mary energetically works to facilitate sustainable development through citizen engagement. Connect with Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen and learn about other development projects onwww.primacivitas.org today.

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