Being the second most diverse agricultural producer in the nation, Michigan has no shortage of specialty crops. In fact, lake effect microclimates are generally the most ideal for growing cherries, apples, and other stone fruits you’ve seen bolstering the economy of northwest Michigan for decades. However, over the years, young people have relocated, family farms have gone corporate, and jobs have disappeared. The Huron Shores Local Food Coalition wants to bring the community together to overcome the obstacles in place and restore the prosperity to Northeast Michigan.
Once known as a “mini fruit ridge,” the farming legacy of Northeastern Michigan is one of local farmers and homesteaders sustaining the region with heritage plum and apple orchards, a “pea depot”, fish hatcheries, and transporting local vegetables into cities by rail transportation. But, as farms in the region conglomerated, younger people relocated, jobs disappeared, orchards were abandoned, and communities that had once thrived on local agriculture changed. Large acres of farmland were transitioned into monoculture for corn, soy, and potatoes; commodities that could be sold in bulk and far from the region took precedence over local markets. Growth and innovation were hampered and rural communities’ health declined.
In response to this, the Huron Shores Local Food Coalition of Northeast Michigan is strategizing a collaborative effort against myriad of struggles holding the region back. The aging farming population is seeing fewer young, beginning farmers picking up the reins; low-income communities across the Northeast continue to see a substantial shortage of skilled labor; and there are no well-connected distribution or storage capabilities operational in the region. Plus, rural areas are still battling tenuous broadband internet connectivity, if they have access at all.
With representatives from multiple sectors of the food system helping to identify and propose food and health policy solutions, founding allies of the Coalition have been engaging focus groups of dietitians, City Council and Downtown Development Authority members, Michigan Farm Bureau Agency and Michigan Farmers Union representatives, chefs, farmers, MSU Extension, Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency, and school liaisons across Alpena, Alcona, Iosco, and Crawford counties to glean data about the obstacles and resources already present in NE Michigan food systems. This past week Megan Masson-Minock of the Center for Regional Food Systems conducted learning sessions in Alcona and Alpena Counties to help stakeholders identify which policy change proposals could have the biggest impact on a NE collective food system.
This group will host the Huron Shores Local Food Coalition Strategic Planning Meeting to move policy recommendations forward on January 7th, from 5-7pm at Alcona High School. All are welcome to join the Huron Shores Local Food Coalition as they envision a prospering northeastern regional food system that identifies and works to remove barriers to providing fresh, local food to the community.
Huron Shores Local Food Coalition Strategic Planning Meeting
January 7th 5-7pm
Alcona High School, Lincoln
Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for Northeast Michigan and owns and operates Presque Isle Farm with her family. She enjoys digging, planting, and hiking in the dirt; cooking up her own recipes; drinking wine; and eating lots of fresh, seasonal produce (and anything deep-fried, in accordance with her southern heritage). She is also a founding member of the Huron Shores Local Food Coalition. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.