Food, farms and health - Advancing connections between local food and health

Regional event inspires action.

“I am so moved, because everyone in this room believes in what I am doing.” This is how Andrea Romeyn, co-owner of Providence Farm in Antrim County began her lightning talk session on employee wellness at the Food, Farms and Health convening on Oct. 10, 2014.

Andrea represented one of several leaders who presented innovative efforts that aim to connect the dots between health care, wellness and locally grown food.  

The Michigan Land Use Institute convened food, farm and health leaders from throughout the northwest Michigan region and state to brainstorm, network and plan on how local food can be used to promote good health. Over 120 participants attended the event with multi-sector representation that included health care, agriculture, education, public health and foundations. Opening remarks were made by Dr. Pat Friedli, director of Munson Community Health Center’s  Healthy Weight Center and Kathryn Colasanti of Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.

''Friedli spoke about the significant health problems associated with obesity, the connection between healthy food and chronic disease prevention and a call to be “active learners” throughout the day. He expressed his own interest in meeting and learning from the impressive list of presenters. Colasanti called on the need for systems change to ensure the health for all Michigan residents, highlighting the Michigan Good Food Charter as the vision and policy initiative to advance healthy, green, fair and affordable food.

Event objectives to learn, connect and act were met by a combination of speaker lightning talks, facilitated breakout sessions, a networking lunch featuring local food and the invitation to identify at least one step towards advancing conference goals. As a participant, it was a challenge to select from the list of experienced state and regional practitioners detailing their innovative models.

Staff from Washtenaw County Public Health shared how their Prescription for Health program improves access to local and affordable produce by building connections among medical practitioners, public health and local produce growers. Results of this initiative to support a healthy food environment are impressive as they illustrate both a health and economic impact. During the first two years, program outcomes included an increase of fruits and vegetable intake among participants by one cup, improved health management and confidence and the generation of $26,000 in new sales for local farmers’ markets. Regional initiatives were well represented and included staff from organizations such as Goodwill Industries of Northwest Michigan, Traverse City Area Public Schools and Hagerty Insurance. A full list of speakers and topics can be found online on the program agenda.''

As a planning committee member and participant, I left the event feeling inspired by the work already taking place throughout the region and state and excited by the multitude of new connections and opportunities for action.

Interested in learning more? Check out the Food, Farm and Health resource page highlighting organizations, networks and research.

Michigan State University Extension provides programming and discussion on how to connect people with healthy, local food.

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