Food and farming networks and councils

A regional food and farming network or policy council confers multiple benefits.

The MI Good Food Charter sets forth a series of 25 policy priorities that will help advance “good food” in Michigan. In this case, “good food” is healthy, green, fair and affordable. One overarching charter goal is that by 2020, 20 percent of the food purchased in Michigan will be grown in Michigan. As more stakeholders become interested in community food systems, there is an opportunity to harness the collective energy in an effort to achieve the goals of the MI Good Food Charter. One avenue is through the development of regional food and farming networks or food policy councils.

Food Networks or Policy Councils offer multiple benefits. First, as more players become involved in community food systems, the chance of duplication of efforts increases. Networks can provide a venue for frequent communication and knowledge exchange thereby encouraging collaborative efforts, eliminating redundancy, and increasing overall regional impact. In addition to collaborative educational programming, collective regional efforts are becoming increasingly necessary when applying for state or federal funding. Second, networks with multiple food system stakeholders can help influence food and agriculture policy at the local, state, and federal levels. Speaking with one voice representing multiple stakeholders from across a region, can have added impact on policy decision makers. Third, networks can bring multiple disciplines together to influence change.

For example, another MI Good Food Charter goal is to increase access to affordable, fresh and healthy food. While an underlying issue of food access may be poverty, it also involves employment, transportation, agriculture, health and nutrition as well. Involving multiple players such as Michigan State University Extension, health districts, farmers markets, hospitals, food pantry’s and more increases the chances of improving food access for all a region’s residents. If you are interested in learning more about developing a regional food network or food policy council, the American Planning Association offers a comprehensive overview of the benefits of Food Policy Councils here. For more information on developing a food network or food policy council you can contact a MSU Extension Community Food System Educator or visit the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network site as well.

As the MI Good Food Charter suggests, “By reemphasizing our local and regional food systems, alongside the national and global ones, we have an opportunity to create a system based on good food in Michigan and achieve a healthier, more prosperous and more equitable state.” Developing Food and Farming Networks will help us achieve this goal.

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