Macomb Food Collaborative develops community mission

Group works to help forge greater access to safe, fresh and healthy food.

In 2011 a group of agencies, organizations and community members from Macomb County came together to address food issues. It hoped to answer a series of questions: Was access to healthy food a problem? Were there enough farmers’ markets? Were people generally healthy? Did schools serve healthy and fresh foods? Did institutions such as hospitals, jails and senior housing serve healthy fresh food? To best answer these questions the group, eventually called the Macomb Food Collaborative, conducted a community food assessment.

Using the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service’s Community Food Assessment Toolkit, the Macomb group started mining data, asking questions, and collecting information about food. The community food assessment revealed a gap in healthy food access among the county’s low-income population, specifically to Bridge Card benefits. At the time, only one of seven farmers’ markets and a handful of farm stands accepted the Bridge Card, Michigan’s electronic balance transfer (EBT) system. The group also found the lack of local food distribution systems severely hindered local schools and institutions from purchasing local fresh food from local and regional farms.

As the food assessment was being completed in 2012, Forgotten Harvest published a report compiled by Data Driven Detroit titled Southeast Michigan Poverty Report. The report pointed out that there was a 48 percent increase in poverty in Southeast Michigan from 2000 to 2010. And Macomb County lead the tri-county area with a whopping 140 percent increase.

In addition, from 2002 to 2011, food stamp/bridge card caseloads grew by 347.5 percent and schools in Macomb County saw double and triple increases in students eligible for free and reduced lunches. In addition to the increase in poverty, increased adult and child obesity rates have reached all-time highs. The Macomb Food Collaborative came to the conclusion that for low-income families, these trends would be nearly impossible to fight unless they had better access to healthy food.

In my role with Michigan State University Extension I facilitated meetings for the Macomb Food Collaborative and assisted in creating its mission statement in fall 2012: “Our mission is to work together to ensure access to safe, fresh, fair and healthy food for all. We promote a vibrant, local food economy, sustainability and good nutrition through education and outreach.”

The group has also set the following goals: to provide a forum to discuss food issues and access in Macomb County and beyond; improve awareness regarding healthy food access for all; encourage economic development by supporting growers, processors and distributors along with small and mid-size food business owners; expand and diversify our membership; and foster cooperation between all major and minor players in the food system.

The group shared their mission and goals with participants at their second annual All about Food – From Farm to Fork conference on Feb. 14 and hopes that by providing community education on food systems, more individuals in Macomb County will understand the issues and help to improve food access for all.

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