Local food councils take root in Michigan

The MSU Center for Regional Food Systems is forming a new local food council network to support the growth and development of these groups throughout the state.

With a growing interest in local food and issues around developing local food systems in Michigan, many communities are creating organized groups to engage these topics. While these groups go by many different names, a significant portion have direct or indirect connection with food policy, and can be loosely called food policy councils. Not all of these entities have food policy council in their title, but still engage in policy advocacy, education and research.

According to a 2012 survey by the Michigan Food Policy Council, 27 community groups were identified that have ties to food issues. These groups are spread throughout the state, but interestingly, share many similar characteristics in group structure, topics addressed and challenges. These insights come from a study conducted in 2014 by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (MSU CRFS), to gauge interest in forming a local food policy council network to support and strengthen these groups.

The study, entitled Advancing a Local Food Policy Council Network in Michigan: An Assessment, was conducted with the intention of better understanding local food policy councils, their contexts, work, and challenges. This information would ultimately demonstrate whether councils needed and wanted a statewide network to support their efforts. Participants in the study, including the Detroit Food Policy Council, The Sault Tribe: Tribal Food Sovereignty Collaborative, Ottawa County Food Policy Council, U.P. Food Exchange and Washtenaw Food Policy Council, shared information about their history, structure and efforts. A few of the commonalities that the survey identified are:

  • The formation of local food councils is relatively recent. Most councils have started since 2011.
  • The majority of food councils are made up of volunteers.
  • Councils face the challenge of keeping members engaged and with their identity within their local food system.
  • Most councils have used the Michigan Good Food Charter to help share their work and direction.

The results of the study, in combination with two preliminary local food council network meetings, demonstrated that the councils throughout the state felt that they would benefit from participating in a network. Based on feedback from council members throughout the state, the Local Food Council Network will help connect councils to local, statewide and national policy information, issues and actions; build council capacity; and provide hands-on training.

This statewide network, hosted by MSU CRFS will be holding its first meeting on Wednesday, May 27 at the Surplus Store/Recycling Center at Michigan State University from 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. The address is 468 Green Way, East Lansing, MI.

Members of any local food council are welcome, but RSVP is required. Please email Megan at megan@enp-associates.com if you are planning on attending.

Michigan State University Extension supports the development and sustaining of local food councils throughout the state. Consider reaching out to your local Community Food Systems Educator for more information about local councils in your area.

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