MarketMaker connects the hungry in Michigan to much needed produce

MI MarketMaker is an important resource used by the Food Bank Council of Michigan to source produce from Michigan farmers to feed the hungry of Michigan.

Imagine growing up without ever tasting the first asparagus of the spring, the tangy sweetness of fresh cherries in the summer or the crispy, sweet crunch of an apple on a fall afternoon. Imagine growing up never knowing what real, fresh food tastes like. Imagine the consequences that subsistence nutrition has on the body and mind.

But don’t imagine that you are in a third world country. Instead, realize that the struggle against daily hunger is the reality for at least 1.7 million of Michigan’s 9.9 million residents, according to Toril Fisher, Director of Programs & Member Services for the Food Bank Council of Michigan (FBCM). Additionally, 2 million Michigan residents participate in SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and an additional 1.5 million are eligible. That’s why Fisher is using MI MarketMaker to reduce the prevalence of hunger in Michigan.

The problem is not simply that half of the babies and over one-third of the general population are eligible for food assistance. The problem, according to Fisher, is that the “SNAP diet” for those on assistance is essentially a “peanut butter and jelly diet” that doesn’t provide enough funds to purchase any fresh fruits and vegetables and often doesn’t even provide enough cheap processed foods to last through the end of the month, which frequently results in hunger for Michigan’s residents.

That’s where the food pantries of Michigan come in. They act as a last safety net for people experiencing hunger. Over 1 million people obtained food from the food pantries and the emergency food network last year in Michigan. For most of them, the only fresh produce that they ever eat comes from the Michigan Food Bank Council which services over 3,500 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens in the state.

“The Michigan agricultural community is like none other,” Fisher said. “They really feel a sense of community and have a willingness to help that is unmatched.” When they have excess produce or produce that has slight cosmetic blemishes, they call the FBCM and donate – over 6 million pounds of produce last year. The state’s Michigan Agricultural Surplus System (MASS) program reimburses them for the cost of harvesting and transportation, but not for the produce that is donated.

Fisher also uses MI MarketMaker in a pilot program called Michigan Farm to Food Bank. It is a complementary program to MASS. It proactively contracts with producers in advance of the growing season to dedicate crop production for a food bank in the same region as the farm.

MI MarketMaker enabled Fisher to easily achieve her goal of identifying regional farms that could provide member food banks with specific types of fresh, whole produce with a minimal ecological impact. The program worked so well that Fisher is using MI MarketMaker again this year to expand the number of participating farms by 50% and her ultimate goal is to have every member food bank have at least one farm under contract to provide fresh produce.

If you read the words of the song “America the Beautiful” as it talks about amber waves of grain and fruited plains, there is a sense of abundance and optimism that goes hand in hand with having enough to eat. MI MarketMaker is playing a key role in ensuring that all of the people of Michigan get to experience the benefits of real, fresh wholesome local foods and restoring the optimism that is so vital to the resurgence of the state.

If your farm or food bank is not listed on MI MarketMaker you are missing the opportunity to connect. So here is how easy it is for you to register:

Go to the MI MarketMaker website at http://www.mimarketmaker.msu.edu/.

  • Click on Register/Log In.
  • Click on Register Your Business.
  • Select a business type.
      For farmers, select Farmers on the drop down menu
    •  For Food Banks, select Buyer on the drop down menu
  • Complete your business profile
    •  Farmers - for the crops you produce and the way you produce them (look for the tabs at the top of the profile page for Dairy, Fruits and Nuts, Meat, Vegetables, etc. so you have a complete profile of your farm).
    •   Food Banks – check Food Bank under Buyer Type then complete the rest of the profile for your organization. Make sure you include Geographic Area and Vendor Protocols, if applicable.
  • Once you have completed your profile, click on Continue at the bottom of the page.
  • Additional features include adding photos and indicate if you are part of one of the groups on MI MarketMaker.
  • Complete your General Business Information and the rest of your profile.

When you submit your completed profile, it will be reviewed to ensure it meets the qualifications of a MI MarketMaker listing. This prevents inappropriate businesses from being listed. You will receive your user name and password in one or two business days via the e-mail you listed in your profile.

Consumers can use MI MarketMaker to find producers, farmers’ markets, wineries, restaurants and retailers in your area where you can purchase food products. Simply select the type of business you want to find in the drop down menu by “Find a …” then click on “Search.” Search for specific businesses, products, crops, or general categories such as fruits, dairy or vegetables. Search multistate, statewide, in your county or in your city. Use “Map All” to generate a map so you know exactly where your potential supplier is located. Use “Detail” to learn what is produced and marketed, when it is produced, hours that the market is open and even get a sneak preview if a Web site is listed.

Food businesses of all types can use MI MarketMaker to take advantage of the buy local trend and give your customers food products produced right in your own neighborhood or find products you may be able to source from your current suppliers. Identify producers who can meet your wholesale needs. Simply select the type of business you want to find in the drop down menu by “Find a …” then click on “Search.” To locate Producers/Farmers and other suppliers (farmers’ markets, wholesalers, processors or wineries). Search for specific businesses and suppliers in your city, county, state or other states. Find suppliers that meet your product criteria such as organic, food safety certified, Kosher or Halaal certified and more. If your business is not registered on MI MarketMaker, register following the suggestions for farmers and food banks above.

MI MarketMaker has been effectively used by the Michigan Food Bank Council to help it find products to feed those Michigan residents who struggle against daily hunger. It can also be used by consumers, farmers, processors, restaurateurs, and others to find products and meet their marketing needs.

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