I’ll admit, I have a lot to learn about the Western Upper Penisula’s local food system. My connections there have been growing and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. They are the ones clearing a path and leading the way in both research and action.
The first is the creation of the Western UP Food System Council (WUPFSC), lead by Rachael Pressely of WUPDDR. There has been significant growth in the number of food policy councils in the past decade. Communities are taking action in their own food sovereignty, and we are excited to see the WUP join that list! Each WUPFSC gathering includes a traditional meal, educational presentation as well as a great opportunity for networking. The meetings help the group define a mission and goals based on the needs of the community.
Through WUPFSC I met the next group of individuals leading us down a path to food security: Michigan Technology University(MTU) faculty, Professor Angie Carter and her students! Professor Carter comes from Iowa State University where she received her PhD in Sociology and Sustainable Agriculture. She has been at MTU for almost two years. Last semester, her Communities and Research class conducted a Food System Research Study, which yielded a food assessment of the Houghton/Hancock area.
A few of these Michigan Tech students sat down with me last month to talk about the project. Our conversation lasted well over an hour. Though, we could have sat there all night discussing their findings, the community needs and their vision for the future. As far as their results, I’ll save the details for the official release of their research later this spring. Main takeaways were consumers expressing a lack of growing space or access to good and healthy food. Institutions suffer from limited time and resources as well as red tape that make it hard for small businesses to support local.
With rising regional food insecurity and increasing food waste, the students seemed to wear the weight of these problems on their shoulders. I’ll admit I probably have that same look to me at times. Building a strong local food system is a dream job, but that doesn’t make it easy.
Luckily, there is a silver lining. This group connects with the people behind their own food system who shared their successes and struggles. Their efforts also reflect the best part of my job: the good feels. It’s always a pleasure to celebrate local success stories, such as a nearby elementary school with a fully functioning student-run garden project. Plus, in connecting with the community, they found that every single person or business they met saw the value in the research they were doing, and wanted to see the project succeed.
In front of me, these 3 motivated individuals have new perspectives on what they eat and will share their experiences with others. Furthermore, the efforts of this class lay groundwork for the needed changes in their community – the ultimate good feel, if you ask me.
A huge thank you to the students who took time to chat with me:
Jack Wilson, studying Sustainability Science & Society, originally from metro Detroit.
Kyla Valenti, studying Law & Society, originally from Arizona.
Courtney Archambeau, studying Environment and Energy Policy, originally from Houghton and a newly admitted Michigan Tech graduate student!
Stay tuned for updates on the release of the MTU students research!
Alex Palzewicz is the UP Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. She will be coming to the Houghton and Hancock area on May 31st to hand out the 2019 Guide to Local Food! Locations and times soon to come.
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