Column: The 10% Local Food Challenge

Swapping Thin Mints for Maitelates and maple sap

Eating Thin Mints recently got me thinking about locally produced food.

Two buttons supporting locally grown food

Many participants in the March 2 Homegrown Food Summit wore buttons like these, supporting locally grown food. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s Girl Scout cookie season, and on Saturday – after swinging through the Ann Arbor Farmers Market – I encountered a Brownie and her dad set up at the corner of Main and Liberty, their table loaded with boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs and an assortment of other cookies that I remember selling too, back in the day. I bought three boxes.

At $3.50 per box, the cookies aren’t outrageously priced – though the boxes seem to get smaller every year. But later, in doing a quick calculation of all the food I’d bought that day, I realized that in buying those cookies, I’d failed to meet a challenge I’d heard earlier in the week: Spend 10% of your food budget on locally produced food.

The “10% Washtenaw” challenge was issued at the Homegrown Local Food Summit, a day-long event on March 2 that drew over 200 people to the Dana Building on the University of Michigan campus. Many of the people at the summit already surpass that goal in a fairly dramatic way. The real challenge, organizers acknowledge, is how to convince the rest of us to do the same.

There’s reason to think they can – 2009 was a pretty good year for the local food movement. The March 2 summit was about twice as large as the first one, held just over a year ago at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The Homegrown Festival in September drew far larger crowds than the first one held in 2008 – the more recent one was packed, with several thousand people attending.

Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program is starting to focus on supporting small farms, more restaurants are highlighting locally produced food, and community-building ventures like Friday Mornings @ SELMA, which raises money for hoop houses and other farming needs, are thriving.

The economic argument that local food activists make is powerful. They calculate that residents of Washtenaw County spend $1 billion annually on food, but less than 1% of that is spent on food grown locally. If, over the next decade, that amount increases to 10%, the dollars spent in this region could have a dramatic multiplier effect. Hundreds of small farms would be needed to meet demand, they argue, creating thousands of new jobs.

The 10% Washtenaw campaign is primarily aimed at individuals, but it’s clear that institutional change is needed as well to reach that goal

In that regard, organizers of the March 2 food summit were heartened by some of the connections being made during the day, and at a kickoff reception held the previous night at the Kerrytown restaurant eve. The events were attended by a few elected officials, some University of Michigan folks, farmers, restaurateurs, food entrepreneurs, nonprofits, members of faith-based initiatives and others who are keen to make some significant changes in how we get our food to the table locally.

Educational institutions hold perhaps the most promise, in terms of efficiently finding large customers for locally produced food. At UM, chef Nelson “Buzz” Cummings has been instrumental in pushing the university’s food system to incorporate more locally grown food into their supply chain – this video from July 2008 sheds some insight into that effort.

Kim Bayer, a leader in the nonprofit Slow Food Huron Valley and one of the summit’s organizers, said that making connections was one of the main goals of the March 2 event. It’s about finding common ground, she said, and understanding that it’s possible “to do more together than we can do alone.”

Policy Initiatives: Local and State

“Doing more together” involves state and local government as well. In Ann Arbor, local food sufficiency is one of 10 environmental indicators tracked by the city. The primary objective of that indicator is to “conserve, protect, and restore local agriculture and aquaculture resources.”

Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, attended last week’s local food summit, and said he was impressed by the efforts already underway by a wide range of groups and individuals.

Matt Naud

Matt Naud, the city of Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator, during a break at the March 2 Homegrown Local Food Summit.

While noting that local food sufficiency is one of Ann Arbor’s environmental indicators, Naud also told me that it hasn’t been one that’s received a lot of attention. [Under the category of "What is the city doing?" on the food sufficiency website, two items are listed: the Ann Arbor Farmers Market and the Project Grow gardens, which the city previously helped fund.]

To track its efforts in achieving the local food sufficiency goal, the city looks at two measurements – the amount of greenbelt land preserved, and the diversity of farmers market vendors. By comparison, the “clean air” indicator tracks seven different measures, “clean water” has eight, and “efficient mobility” has 11.

Greenbelt land isn’t always connected to the production of food for the local market. But in the past year, the link between greenbelt land and local food sufficiency has been strengthened. The Greenbelt Advisory Commission, which oversees the city’s 30-year millage that funds the greenbelt, is putting more emphasis on small farms when it considers the purchase of development rights. The commission discussed these efforts at length at their November 2009 meeting.

At the state level, food activists are hopeful about legislation introduced earlier this year by state Rep. Pam Byrnes, who represents the 52nd District, covering the mostly rural western side of Washtenaw County. The bill [HB 5837], which was introduced in February, would make it easier for owners of certain “cottage food” businesses to operate from their homes, rather than requiring them to use commercially licensed kitchens, as is currently the case.

The challenge of finding affordable, available and acceptable-to-the-task kitchen space is critical to local food entrepreneurs – The Chronicle has reported on two ventures that had difficulty with this: Maite Zubia, who makes homemade cookies called Maitelates Alfajores, and Mary Wessel Walker, who recently renamed her Community Farm Kitchen business as Harvest Kitchen. If passed into law, the legislation could eliminate a barrier for start-up food businesses – or for the success of those that intentionally remain small.

Other state-level efforts are underway. At the March 2 summit, Jennifer Fike, executive director of the Ann Arbor-based Food System Economic Partnership, gave a report on the Michigan Good Food Summit, held last month in Lansing. That gathering focused on statewide initiatives for the food industry, from advocating for regulatory reform to encouraging the institutional purchasing of locally grown food.

Getting the Word Out

I covered last year’s food summit for The Ann Arbor Chronicle, and the most notable difference between this year and last – aside from the larger turnout – was the very specific call to action made to participants during the March 2 event.

Writing letters

Participants of the March 2 Homegrown Local Food Summit write letters to themselves about steps they'll take to support the local food network and the 10% Washtenaw campaign.

The 10% Washtenaw initiative was the cornerstone of the day. In the morning, participants broke into small groups to design marketing campaigns for it – the results are featured in video clips on the summit’s website.

At the end of the day, organizers gave each participant a piece of paper and envelope – they were asked to write letters to themselves, setting goals and making commitments to support the local food network. Those letters – put into self-addressed, sealed envelopes – were collected and will be mailed back to the writers in five months, as a reminder of their goals.

Five months from now, I’m guessing most people in the room will have chipped away at those goals, even the really ambitious ones.

And the rest of us? That will be a tougher sell. I had lunch recently with a friend who lives in the outskirts of Ann Arbor, and who noted that within her circle of friends – at church, at work, in the neighborhood, and socially – conversations about buying more local food just don’t happen. It’s not even on the radar.

I’ll admit to being a little intimidated by the 10% effort – modest though it is. But it’s conceivable that I could do it: Organizers were smart in making it both concrete and attainable, even for those of us who would need to change our habits to reach it.

I have tremendous admiration for people like Linda Diane Feldt, who attended the summit with a plastic jug full of maple sap that she’d tapped recently from trees in the neighborhood – she was passing out samples, and the clear, slightly sweet liquid tasted like pure spring. And for Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe, who helped organize the summit and who’ve turned Friday Mornings @ SELMA into a powerful community gathering, showing how a celebration of local food can be a rip-roaring good time, too.

And for the folks at Slow Food Huron Valley, who’ve been pushing these local food efforts for years. Their more ambitious goals include forming a farm incubator program and a community credit union specifically to finance local food-related ventures.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to be more thoughtful about my own food consumption, day by day. Thin Mints are available just once a year, and I like them. I’m going to keep buying them, even though they’re “manufactured,” according to the box, in Louisville, Kentucky.

But just a few blocks away from the Main Street Thin Mint stand, over at the Farmers Market, is where Maite Zubia sells her amazing cookies. And I’ve watched her make them right here in Ann Arbor. So for the rest of the year, it’ll be Maitelates Alfajores for me.

Two women writing on a chalkboard

Deirdra Stockmann, left, and Gillian Ream take notes while participants of the Homegrown Local Food Summit describe different events and programs focused on locally produced food in this area.

Prize from the Homegrown Local Food Summit

The March 2 Homegrown Local Food Summit aimed to be a zero-waste event – participants were asked to bring their own dishware for the lunch, which was catered by A Knife's Work, using locally produced food. The two settings deemed "most creative" won a prize – soap from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

Flow chart of local food connections

A detail from a much larger chart showing of local food connections throughout Washtenaw County.


  1. March 9, 2010 at 8:17 am | permalink

    Oddly, I went to the city food sufficiency website that you linked to, and it does not mention the Project Grow community gardens, that the city no longer funds. I lobbied for this funding strenuously but the $7,000 annual grant was cut even before the recent budget travails. Sabra Briere made a heroic effort to save the funding but four councilmembers (CM Hohnke, CM Greden, CM Derezinski, and Mayor Hieftje) voted against it and two were absent. I think it remarkable that the city would not do even its .00001% in helping to promote food sufficiency by continuing to fund a program that was originally wholly a city program.

    The city site now mentions the Farmers’ Market and the Greenbelt program. As you state, the GB program until recently has not been instrumental in increasing the local food supply but has mostly benefited commodity crop growers.

  2. By mae
    March 9, 2010 at 9:09 am | permalink

    Whole Foods is beginning to stock more local products. Produce Station on State Street has always stocked a lot of local produce. Other food stores also have local foods — obviously more in season.

    I wonder if any of them would be willing and able to program their cash registers to tally the percent of purchase due to local items.

  3. By Mary Morgan
    March 9, 2010 at 9:21 am | permalink

    Re. #1: On the food sufficiency website that’s linked to in this article, there’s a brief mention of Project Grow in the section titled “What the City of Ann Arbor Is Doing”:

    “Project Grow Community Gardens: City staff are looking at city-owned property that may be suitable for Project Grow Community Gardens.”

    My article inaccurately stated that the city helps fund Project Grow – the city no longer provides direct funding for that nonprofit. We’ve corrected that statement in the article.

  4. By glenn thompson
    March 9, 2010 at 9:39 am | permalink

    The city does not fund the Farmers Market with taxes. It is an enterprise fund with most of the operation paid by the vendor fees. For many years the fees exceeded cost and market reserve fund steadily grew. Under the recent administration operating costs now exceed revenue. This will probably result in a ‘crisis’ like the golf courses and a demand to sell the Market

  5. March 9, 2010 at 9:50 am | permalink

    Regarding #2:

    I’m intrigued by the metrics involved with this challenge. So rereading it, I gather that the unit of measure is the dollar spent, not the weight or volume of food. But what if you are moving to less expensive food generally, or, like me, you grow many of your own vegetables? Or you’ve been keeping chickens and eat your home-grown eggs? As the total dollars spent on food goes down, the extra expense of “foreign” foods like olive oil, chocolate, citrus and coffee will become a greater fraction of the total.

    Also, are we talking about locally-produced (grown) food or also locally processed food? For example, those wonderful Maitelates – do they use evaporated condensed milk to make the dulce leche? Or flour grown from outside Michigan? Of course, the chocolate is not local.

    Just to be super-picky, how have we defined “local”? Michigan-grown ok? What about northern Ohio and Indiana?

    BTW, I’ve found that Arbor Farms is very good about providing local food choices, including locally-grown beef and lamb, and also pork and chicken less regularly. They feature local produce as long and as often as practicable. They also carry wild-caught freshwater fish like walleye (while we’re talking local, don’t forget that ocean fish stocks are mostly depleted and are no longer sustainable, much less local!).

  6. By Kathy Klinich
    March 9, 2010 at 9:56 am | permalink

    Although Little Brownie Bakers is headquartered in Kentucky, the cookies sold by Girl Scouts in the Heart of Michigan Region were baked in Michigan at the Little Brownie facility near Battle Creek. So your Girl Scout cookies are more local than you thought.

  7. By mae
    March 9, 2010 at 10:42 am | permalink

    The article said clearly “Spend 10% of your food budget on locally produced food.” That seems like a very reasonable starting point for a local food initiative.

    Local produce usually is defined by a circle 50 to 100 miles in diameter, within which vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat, or fish are farmed (or caught in case we have any wild-caught fish). Virtually every item of produce, eggs, or meat at the Farmer’s Market would be local. For bakery goods, a definition would be needed — and that’s a real problem if you read the incessant fighting about pies at the Farmer’s Market.

    But within such a definition stores could be asked to compute the percent of your bill due to local food. Why get complicated?

  8. March 9, 2010 at 11:19 am | permalink

    Fifty to 100 mile radius is quite a variable.

    I gather Lenawee, Monroe and Jackson counties are ok? (Many growers at the Farmers’ Market are from one of those counties, and Calder milk is from Monroe.) The name of the program is “10% Washtenaw”, which seems to imply Washtenaw-grown produce only.

    Michigan beet sugar doesn’t count? Westwind Milling’s flour? Traverse County cherries? Michigan beans from the thumb area? I think the programmers at the stores would need to know – it could indeed be complicated to put that into the cash register software.

  9. By Linda Diane Feldt
    March 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm | permalink

    This conversation demonstrates one of the immediate wins of the program – get people to think about and talk about where food comes from. There are so many gray areas, some of us like to consider them endlessly, most do not.
    The good news is this is a continuum, and perfection is not important or even a realistic goal. We all can do the best we can. What matters most to you? Supporting local farmers? Reducing your carbon footprint? Eating fresher food? Growing your own? Supporting stores that provide local? Having the direct experience of raising animals? The experience of the many local Farmer’s Markets? Being part of a Co-op? Probably some combination of those things.
    If you find yourself do more, having greater awareness, and keeping more of your dollars local, and have fun in the process, then great. We all benefit.
    Eating well and eating locally can be very simple, and lead you into some places that will be new and interesting. And these debates about how much and what counts and measurements are great, as long as we don’t get bogged down in the details and end up turning people off.
    Food should be a pleasure, and not a guilty one.
    The 10% local idea is a challenge and an exciting possibility for great things to happen in Washtenaw County. Let’s do our best and enjoy the process.

  10. By jcp2
    March 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm | permalink

    In the spirit of this initiative (which I am taking as “locovore-ish”), shouldn’t there be the additional stipulation that the food within this category be as unprocessed/non-industrial as possible? Otherwise, living next to a cereal factory would allow Frosted Flakes, living next to a bottling plant would allow Pepsi, living next to a feedlot would allow all sorts of beef, living next to a commodity farm would allow all sorts of foods.

  11. By Rod Johnson
    March 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm | permalink

    I’m pretty sure there’s an exemption for Girl Scout cookies. Also, I’m under the impression that Wal-Mart is currently a big driver in the locavore movement [Link].

  12. By Linda Diane Feldt
    March 9, 2010 at 6:12 pm | permalink

    The large chains are capable of doing good things. And there will always be people who prefer to shop there. Here we have a compromise – they may support local large farmers (the small ones can be too difficult for a large chain to deal with) but the money spent on the the local food will not remain local, these are national chains. Shades of gray. Buying locally sourced food at the Farmer’s Market, People’s Food Co-op, Arbor Farms, has the true double benefit – you can get local food from a locally owned store, or in the case of the Farmer’s Market from the farmer directly.
    That doesn’t make Whole Foods bad, just in a different place in the continuum. They have a larger voice that can make a difference nationally in policy and standards, and they’ve forced policy changes in the organic movement which are all for the better.
    And even Walmart has had some positive influence, I’ll admit.

    But Walmart is not and never will be a local enterprise. Neither is Whole Foods, but they seem to do what they can to balance that.

    Comment number 10 – the unprocessed healthier food tends to go with the territory. But if there is a beef farm next to you, which raises pasture fed organic beef, why not support it? Well, I wouldn’t because I’m also a vegetarian, but the case could be made. And Jiffy mix is a local product for us. If you were choosing baking mixes that were otherwise the same, choose the Jiffy Mix. Maybe next year you’ll choose to bake from scratch, but this is a process, not a black and white right and wrong equation.

    We all have to start some place.

  13. March 9, 2010 at 8:47 pm | permalink

    I recently toured the Jiffy Mix plant with some suitably nerdy friends (and found the tour just as awesome as I remembered from the 4th grade…); if I recall correctly, they stated that all of their ingredients are Michigan-sourced (with obvious exceptions like the cocoa in chocolate muffin mix), except for the corn meal for the corn muffins, which comes from Indiana or Illinois. If I heard the explanation right, it was that they had not been able to find a corn miller in-state who could meet their demand. (They mill their own flour, but not the corn meal.)

    The infrastructure barrier is one I’ve heard before – I recall Mike Score of MSU Extension explaining to me that local beef couldn’t make it to local grocery stores without a trip to Indiana, because Michigan did not have any USDA-certified beef slaughterhouses. This is another benefit of buying direct from the farmer – if you circumvent the store, you are permitted to take your chances with the small butcher who doesn’t have the cash to meet the USDA certification requirements. So my freezer has a lamb raised in Chelsea and butchered in Jackson, and 1/3 of a pig raised in Chelsea and butchered in Grass Lake, both traveling < 100 miles not just from source to me, but round-trip through the process.

  14. By jcp2
    March 9, 2010 at 9:54 pm | permalink

    I like the idea of buying meat directly from the local farmer, but isn’t that a luxury that would be only available to the few who took advantage of it first? I’m not referring to pricing, but availability. What would happen if everybody in Ann Arbor decided to buy meat locally? Would there be enough for everybody? Would there be enough space for other stuff to be produced locally? Is local food self sufficiency a realistic goal?

  15. March 9, 2010 at 11:33 pm | permalink

    Over time, increased demand will eventually increase supply (whether of beef or other foods), both by existing producers and through the entry of new producers. There’s no other realistic way for it to happen. (Is there?)

    Seeing it as a luxury for those who can currently do it, whether through spending more money or more time, is missing the bigger, long-term picture. We will all ultimately benefit from a more diverse, stable, local food system. Local farmers running out of food this year would be a good thing that would lead to a reduction in the likelihood of them running out of food when we really need it in future years. Prices would be lower, too — maybe not lower than today, but lower than they otherwise would be for more distantly sourced food.

    Meat production through free-range practices benefits the production of other foods. Manures and animal bones and blood are important fertilizers for vegetable and fruit crops. (Actually, it feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the crops/animals.) The alternatives are fossil fuels for nitrogen and mined phosphate, both of which are unsustainable practices. The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith, is an interesting source for more on that subject. I recently borrowed it from AADL.

    There’s probably enough space in the county to grow our own food (we’re looking into it), it just might not be on traditional farm lands. Urban and suburban food production already is being practiced and will likely expand.

    Local food sufficiency is a realistic goal for our community and county. Local food *self* sufficiency is a realistic goal for some individuals but not for most. Keep in mind that sufficiency doesn’t necessarily mean everything we might want to eat, just what we need in order to not go hungry.

    The Environmental Commission would appreciate suggestions for other indicators relevant to our Local Food Sufficiency goal or any of the other nine. Also, any “You Can Help” ideas are welcome. Just go to the page to which Mary provided the link, click “State of Our Environment” at the top of the page, and you’ll find Environmental Coordinator Matt Naud’s email address in the “Share Your Thoughts” section.

  16. By Stephen Cain
    March 10, 2010 at 12:04 am | permalink

    I understand the benefits of buying organic food. I understand the benefits of avoiding the vast majority of processed foods. Buying some local foods, e.g. corn, makes sense because it has a significant edge in freshness, which is part of the reason I have had a substantial vegetable garden every year for more than four decades. And I think we have lost something as a society with the factory farm eradication of most of our nation’s family farms. That being said, how does buying 10 percent local food or local food self sufficiency rank as important values to pursue?

  17. March 10, 2010 at 6:57 am | permalink

    Thanks to Mary of covering this and thanks for the comments. This was a great community event. Regarding the city local food sufficiency goal and state of our environment report, the report is never really finished and always can be updated with the latest data or a new indicator. I personally think it is one of the better ways a city can tell its sustainability story – but I am biased. The Environmental Commission meets monthly to look at improving or adding indicators that best tell the story of how the city is reaching environmental goals (or not). Project Grow is on my list of Indicator To-Do’s along with several others. Anyone interested in recommending an indicator can contact me at the city at

  18. March 10, 2010 at 9:03 am | permalink

    Regarding #13, there is a USDA slaughterhouse near Port Huron which I think is used by most local meat producers who sell retail packaged meat. I purchased a half hog locally (Lodi Township) last year and it was processed there into nice frozen plastic-enclosed packages. Having a USDA facility closer to our area, or one that even travels to small producers/butchers would be a great boon to make it possible to buy more local meat one piece at a time. Not everyone can afford or store a quarter or half animal at a time. (I’m down to one shoulder roast and a couple of ham hocks, but it has been an adventure.)

    I’d like to take an opportunity here to laud Edible Avalon, which is (in cooperation with Food Gatherers) helping Avalon tenants to grow their own food. Another strike for food (self) sufficiency.

    I agree with Steve Bean that it is a good long-term goal to support local farmers so that they are able to produce more of our food. This is important for long-term community food security in the event that our food supply lines are interrupted. We are fortunate to live in an area (and a state) with a relatively diverse agriculture.

  19. March 11, 2010 at 11:08 am | permalink

    As one of the organizers of the Local Food Summit, I would like to weigh in on the “what is local?” question. I think Linda Diane Feldt does an excellent job in comment #9 to convey the spirit of this project, namely: Take a look around you; see if there is anything that interests or concerns you about the present state of our food system; take action where you see fit, starting right where you are; and have a good time doing it.

    The Ten Percent Washtenaw campaign, launched at the Food Summit, is specifically looking at and re-imagining our county food system. This is not, however, intended to define local as county-wide. It simply picks one region that is close at hand, easily measurable and conveniently well matched in farmland and consumers.

    Rather than wondering “what if everybody?” or deciding what exactly constitutes natural, or deciding if 10% is too little or too much for us to take on, we have looked squarely at what this relatively simple shift could do for our economic situation. Early analysis by Alex Rosaen shows that we make $1 Billion in food purchases each year and that shifting to 10% county production of that food would net over 1000 new jobs. This even before the potential we could generate circulating those dollars in our community and in selling food to our surrounding communities. Further analysis shows that this production would constitute less than 5% of our present farmland. This because growing food using inovative, sustainable practices produces 200 times as much food value per acre than the commodity crops that are in great surplus, stacking up in silos and in our waistlines.

    The other beneficial outcomes that are likely to arise from this shift are left to others to calculate. These could easily be imagined to include better health outcomes, a more resilient food system, a higher standard of transparency into all our food choices, better access to healthy foods for people of lower income, a viable alternative to urban sprawl, less petroleum intensive farming practices and less fertilizer run-off into waterways.

    Tools are being developed to track the data about our food economy (in dollars) as well as all the informal ways we grow, share and consume food. With these sources of digestible information (ok, a little pun intended), we will be able to help individuals, businesses and institutions see the impact of their food purchasing decisions and act accordingly.

    To Matt and Steve’s comments in #15 and 17, the best indicators of our local food system will certainly be found at the county level. The Michigan Dept. of Agriculture posts detailed information about our food system on a county by county basis, and one important figure, hiding down at the bottom of the page, is the Local Food index. The index is designed to measure the overlap between what a community grows and what they eat. While we rank very poorly right now in Washtenaw County (9 being well below the state average of 30), I feel we have a unique opportunity to lead the state and am dedicated to helping us get there.

    Even this relatively small shift in our food priorities will involve major new projects (wouldn’t it be something if we flipped the equation and bought 90% locally while still enjoying a bit of coffee, chocolate, spices, citrus and/or olive oil from afar?). A new meat processing plant closer to Ann Arbor would be one of many possibilities. New local investment options will allow our community to invest a portion of our assets in projects like this that will work to benefit all. One of the biggest hurdles will be helping many qualified young people who want to grow our food get access to land and other assets needed to start their own farms. As a consumer, activist or entrepreneur, I look forward to meeting you in this movement.

  20. March 12, 2010 at 12:29 am | permalink

    Something I heard today led to the thought that buying locally (and especially organically) grown food is a sounder investment than putting money in the stock market. The return is significant — better environment, better health, better local economy, better taste, better future options, better food security — for us and our kids, and it accrues to whatever premium we might pay for it as well as the amount that would have otherwise gone to non-local producers. The only better low-risk investments I’m aware of are those that reduce energy use (CFL and LED lighting, insulation, weatherization, passive-solar space and water heating, geothermal heating and cooling, walking, bicycling, telecommuting, etc.)

  21. March 13, 2010 at 10:53 am | permalink

    I’d like to chime in on something else about this initiative–it’s ease of use (“user friendliness”, if you will). Personally, I can’t walk to work (I mean, I could, but it would be a long walk! :)), I can’t telecommute (but I think it’d be cool to just “beam” my butt into the classroom while I teach from home), I can’t afford the solar panels and such…but I CAN buy locally sourced food. It’s everywhere–from the numerous farmers markets to CSAs to Hillers. Heck, even some of the chain stores have Guernsey dairy. Thanks to the numerous folks about town and the blogs about town, one can easily learn where to find local food and then what to do with it once you get it.
    If nothing else, I’ve learned from teaching that people will do the right thing if it’s easy enough. I will break things into chunks for the kids (like the dreaded fractions that the 5th graders just started) and suddenly what looked impossible is simpler. Same thing here–break it down into manageable chunks. Start by buying local dairy, which is easy enough to do. Then maybe move onto meats or sugar (Pioneer sugar is available almost everywhere). And then–
    But waitaminute. It’s Saturday! What the heck am I doing lecturing?? Go out and buy something local :)

  22. March 13, 2010 at 11:41 am | permalink

    Thanks to Jeff McCabe for identifying the Michigan Department of Agriculture information. It is quite interesting in that it states that our county is #1 in the state in sheep and goat operations and #2 in the state for organic production. I’d like to learn more about the aquaculture operations; we lead in that too. We are also #7 in direct-to-consumer sales.

    A minor correction: The local food production index that Jeff cites is described thus on the sheet: “The local food production index describes both the quantity and diversity of agricultural production in a county. It is obtained by comparing county per capita production of major food crops with national per capita consumption of those crops. The highest possible index score of 100 indicates that sufficient quantities of all included crops are produced within the county to meet local demand. Michigan’s statewide production index score is 30.”

    In other words, within the State of Michigan overall, we produce enough food to feed our total population at 30 on a scale of 100. (I don’t know whether this means we produce 30% of the food required in quantity, or whether it is referring to types of food.) So it is not accurate to say that the “state average is 30″. That is simply the score for the entire state.

    Wayne County’s score is 0, by the way. Lenawee is 13, Jackson is 16 and Monroe is 12. It would be nice if we could raise our score (currently 9) to near those more traditionally agricultural counties. It would mean that we are more locally self-sufficient.

  23. March 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm | permalink

    So – for discussion purposes, if the Environmental Commission used the County Local Food Index as one indicator of Local Food Sufficiency, how should they characterize this in our indicator system.

    Where are we now? Good, Fair, or Poor

    Where are we going? Getting Better, Stable, Getting Worse, Don’t Know

    FYI – we have 24 approved chicken permits in the city from 2008 and 2009 – none yet in 2010 – Up to 96 legal chickens could be in your neighborhoods

  24. March 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm | permalink

    Matt, that is an interesting question. I did a brief search for sites quoting the original study on which those figures were based. As some noted, food sufficiency is not predicated only on production, but also on processing and distribution. There are other tools being used that I want to explore for my own interest.

    Here is how Cuyahoga County (Ohio, near Cleveland) is handling it. They are using a complex set of data and tools to answer this question. [link]

  25. By Rachel Chadderdon
    March 15, 2010 at 11:10 am | permalink

    As the MDA intern who worked on the fact sheets with the Local Food Index, I’ve been asked to explain it a little more fully. (Fact sheets are here: [link])

    As the footnote of the fact sheet states, the LFI is based on a calculation by two researchers from Vermont and Massachusetts. You can read that article from the Journal of Extension here: [link]

    To calculate the LFI, I used USDA Agricultural Census data from 2007 (the Ag Census is done every 5 years). The LFI calculation compares per-capita consumption with per-capita production of 13 or 14 general classes of ag products (tree fruits, grains, dry beans, milk and dairy, etc). If production exceeds consumption for a particular product, I used the consumption value for the rest of the calculation – in other words, if a county produces a ton of apples, like Kent County does, only the apples that people who live in Kent County could eat count toward its LFI.

    So, in order to have a high LFI, a county (or state, or region – it works with any defined area) must produce reasonably high PER-CAPITA quantities of several different types of crops – because if the area just produces a lot of one thing, the surplus is exported (we assume) and doesn’t count toward LFI.

    The counties in the state with the highest LFIs are in southwestern Michigan, where they produce a lot of fruits and vegetables in addition to grains and meat products, AND where populations are a little lower. Washtenaw County’s score is not lower than neighboring Monroe and Lenawee because there is any significant difference in what we grow, but because we have so many more people to feed.

    What could make Washtenaw’s LFI higher? Growing more vegetables and fruits, and producing more meat and dairy products, basically anything but growing a larger surplus of corn and soy.

    I have to mention a few flaws in this measure, which you astute readers are likely to notice. First, since it’s based on the Ag Census, we’ll only be able to update it every 5 years and we’ll be limited by the precision of the data- it often doesn’t capture very small producers, tends to underestimate yields, and reports “production” in dollars- so reflects the market value of commodities rather than quantity. Second, as some readers above have pointed out, the county is an arbitrary boundary and probably not the best way to define “local” – why not think of Tuscola County beans, or Allegan County blueberries, as local? This is another case of being limited by the data. One more- the best estimate of consumption is the national per-capita value… so if we Washtenites eat more fruits and vegetables than the average American, our LFI is probably an overestimate. (There’s no data to suggest we’re above average, but wouldn’t we all like to be?) And the last major one: the LFI assumes that all local demand will be met with local products before anything is exported, and that’s not necessarily true.

    BUT – all that said, think of the LFI as a general measure of the diversity and relative (to population) quantity of our agricultural production. As imprecise as it is, if it goes up, that’s a good thing- we’re closer to being able to feed ourselves locally.

  26. By jcp2
    March 15, 2010 at 12:09 pm | permalink

    Wouldn’t changing or eliminating Farm Bill subsidies for industrial corn and soy start to change the mix of local agricultural production to things that we could actually purchase and eat? Hunt and peck for locally produced foods with this policy in the background seems to be pretty inefficient.

  27. March 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm | permalink

    Re #25 – Wow, thanks, that was great.

    Re #26 – Yes, that would be wonderful (to recast the Farm Bill). Unfortunately the revised bill passed just last year and will be in force for several more. It had a few beneficial tweaks but the chair of that committee was Sen. Grassley from Iowa who is all corn, all the way. Our national and local policies are all much too tilted toward commodity crops that are shipped not just out of state, but out of country – and subsidized by taxpayers.

    The new moves on the Greenbelt Advisory Board are a welcome start, as reported in earlier Chronicle stories. But has been pointed out to me, even commodity growers who put their property into restricted status are at least preserving the tillable soil.