Put local food on your menu

Consumers and food businesses can both benefit from sourcing local produce.

Consumers, restaurants, hospitals and food businesses have opportunities to purchase local food to serve their customers and their families.  Local food networks can build an alternative business model to the current large global and corporate models where producers and consumers cannot be known to each other due to the chain of growers, processors, manufacturers, shippers and retailers.  By purchasing locally people are reconnecting to growers and increasing their ability to have fresh and local food.

Michigan farms grow more diverse produce than most states in America, with more than 300 commodity foods reported in the last agriculture census.  Local sourcing supports local food economies and farmers. 

The new guide Putting Michigan Produce ON YOUR MENU written by the Center for Regional Food Systems,  a key partner of Michigan State University Extension, can help businesses and institutions create a more local menu.  The guide outlines Michigan resources, food safety concerns, purchasing guidelines, storage tips and a produce availability.

As both an MSU Extension educator and affiliate of the CRFS, I believe the guide is a great way for businesses and institutions to start their local sourcing efforts with their food distributor.  Ask your local food distributor where your produce, meat, dairy, and bread products are coming from and whether they have a local source. The distributor might be able to make a few changes in their purchasing practices to accommodate Michigan foods.

Because Michigan has a shorter growing season, food purchasers should think outside the box in menu planning.  During the winter months, consider substituting a winter soup from stored squash or pumpkin instead of a salad or mixed vegetables that may not be grown locally.  Experiment with roasted root vegetables and squash or find local processed Michigan vegetables and fruits like pickled beets and apple or cherry products.

The seasonality of Michigan fruits and vegetables forces many to plan menus and food needs around the calendar, but protein sources such as beef, pork, fish, poultry and eggs can be sourced all year round.  As a local bakery, you may be able to find local grain for your products without any problem.  National Restaurant Consultants say that in 2013, local food and making food from scratch will continue to be one of the top trends in food.

It might be best to start with one food product. For example food businesses might like to start purchasing local eggs for their cake baking; local beef for their restaurant menus; locally baked bread for sandwiches at the local deli.  Once a business become accustomed to the routine and process of sourcing local, it can transition to other products. We don’t expect businesses and institutions to starting purchasing every food item locally – but gradually, businesses can make some changes in local suppliers that will move them towards supporting the local food system.  It does not have to be all or nothing.  Purchasers can also choose to purchase a larger percentage of local products as they are in season and still make a significant contribution to local sourcing and support of the local food network.

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