$500,000 grant will help Michigan communities address food insecurity and limited access to healthy food

The Michigan Local Food Council Network will advocate for more equitable policies and practices.

Cardboard box filled with fresh food, including asparagus, yellow summer squash, apples, lettuce, green onions, broccoli, and a carton of one dozen eggs.
Photo Credit: Chara Bouma-Prediger; CLF Food Policy Networks Photo Contest, 2020

Contact: Liz Gensler, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, gensler@msu.edu

East Lansing, MI – The Michigan Health Endowment Fund has awarded a $500,000 grant to the Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) to support local communities in cultivating stronger and more just food systems. The grant will address food insecurity and limited access to healthy food. It will build on momentum generated by local food councils’ efforts to advance stronger and more just food systems in the wake of food insecurity, health disparities, and systemic food systems issues that have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Feeding America estimated that over 16% of Michiganders – more than 1.6 million people in the state – were food insecure in 2020 due to COVID-19, up from 13% in 2019. Local food councils have played a key role during the pandemic by coordinating and, in some cases, implementing initiatives to ensure their community members had access to food as unemployment climbed, schools shut down, and typical sources of food assistance were strained,” said Liz Gensler, Local Food Council Specialist at MSU CRFS and co-coordinator of the Michigan Local Food Council Network. “Our efforts with this grant will focus on influencing policy at the local and state level, dismantling structural racism in the food system, and shaping and advancing the goals of the Michigan Good Food Charter."

A local food council is a group from a defined geographic area that works together to assess and recommend practices and policies that affect their local food system. There are 30 local food councils in the Michigan Local Food Council Network (MLFCN), which MSU CRFS has convened to help to grow and strengthen Michigan’s councils since 2015.

“Michigan’s local food councils have a unique power to identify and address the most pressing barriers to food security and access in their communities,” said Laurie Solotorow, program director at the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. “Building equitable food systems starts at the local level, through community-driven collaboration and outreach.”

Activities funded by the grant will include: Outreach and technical assistance focused on Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led and -centered councils and councils in areas of Michigan with low food access A peer mentorship program so experienced council members can share their knowledge with other councils A new group of local council ambassadors to make connections with policymakers, municipal staff, and organizations with intersecting interests (e.g. health, equity, economy, environment) Network meetings and trainings Seed grants to catalyze progress toward councils’ goals or establish a new council

This grant will also support a Local Food Council Fellow at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems to support outreach, training and technical assistance, and relationship-building around local food councils and food policy. This person will assist in coordinating and executing the activities of MLFCN. Candidates may apply until October 11, 2021.

Michigan’s local food councils address a broad range of issues, from farmland financing to food waste reduction, but most focus primarily on expanding healthy food access and food security in their communities. In recent years, councils have helped expand the state-funded 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms program to increase Michigan-grown produce in schools, created model zoning language for urban agriculture, coordinated across providers to reduce barriers to accessing food assistance, established a produce donation program at farmers markets to supply food pantries while supporting local farmers, and created a youth-led garden cooperative to provide fresh food to the youth and garden neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding is provided by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund through its Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles program.

The Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) works to develop economically-thriving, equitable communities through regionally-rooted food systems. For over a decade, our applied research, education, and outreach have focused on systems that produce healthy, green, fair, and affordable food. Five key values guide our work: collaboration, shared vision, place, equity, and accountability. Learn more at foodsystems.msu.edu.

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund works to improve the health and wellness of Michigan residents and reduce the cost of healthcare, with a special focus on children and seniors. You can find more information about the Health Fund at mihealthfund.org.

Did you find this article useful?