Michigan Farm to Institution Network “cultivating” a stronger local food system

MFIN’s new Cultivate Michigan local purchasing campaign creates a platform for Michigan Institutions to find local producers and track local purchases.

There is a new way for Institutions in Michigan to engage in the increasingly important work of Farm to Institution across the state. The recently launched Cultivate Michigan Local Purchasing Campaign, of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, is seeking to better connect institutions with local food suppliers and help them track progress toward sourcing more local food.

The development of the Michigan Good Food Charter in 2010 was a big step in moving towards healthier and more sustainable food systems for communities and regions across Michigan. The Charter set specific focus areas and goals for the state to work towards over the next ten years. One of these goals was for Michigan institutions (like hospitals and schools) to source 20 percent of their food purchases from Michigan producers by the year 2020. This goal became the basis for the work of the Institutional Food Purchasing workgroup of the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University. Over the past two years, this small internal workgroup has expanded to become the Michigan Farm to Institution Network (MFIN), and includes many different individuals and organizations working on Farm to Institution Programs around the state.

Cultivate Michigan is the first major effort of MFIN to engage institutions from around the state, and actively track progress towards the sourcing 20 percent by 2020 goal of the Good Food Charter. Michigan State University Extension has been active in this work since the inception of the MFIN, with educators from the Michigan State University Extension Community Food System Workgroup providing leadership to subcommittees working behind the scenes to develop educational resources and provide outreach to stakeholders from around the state. Along with providing a platform for institutions to track their local food purchases, Cultivate Michigan will provide purchasing guides for specific produce items grown in Michigan.

Four product guides will be published in 2014, asparagus, blueberries, tomatoes and apples. The asparagus purchasing guide has already been released to coincide with the start of Michigan’s fresh asparagus season which began in mid-May. The finishing touches are being put on the blueberry purchasing guide so it can be released ahead of the fresh blueberry season that begins in early July. The blueberry guide will also highlight sources of frozen blueberries to help institutions source blueberries all year long from Michigan growers. The toolkits also include recipes that highlight the specific products for use by chefs and food service directors. These recipes are sourced from institutional partners who have already found unique ways to integrate more Michigan products into their cafeteria meals.

Cultivate Michigan will continue to help Michigan institutions work towards the sourcing 20 percent by 2020 goal by providing local sourcing information for specific products and by helping institutions track their local purchasing. Opportunities exist for communities, organizations and institutions to get involved with this work by becoming a member of the MFIN and contributing to the work of one of the subcommittees. More information on the network and the subcommittee contacts can be found by downloading the info sheet. For more information on farm to institution programs that may already be active in your area contact your local community food systems educator through our find an expert system.

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