Michigan Food Policy Council releases report of policy recommendations for 2013

This policy report encourages more investment in the local food sector to build capacity and help grow jobs.

In June 2005, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm signed an executive order establishing the Michigan Food Policy Council (MFPC). The council was created with 21 members representing food system sectors such as production, retail, processing, restaurants and organized labor, to name a few. Representatives of departments of state government such as agriculture, human services, community health, education and environmental quality were designated as well as representatives from anti-hunger, economic development and healthcare organizations.

On October 15, 2013, after much deliberation and effort, the MFPC, assisted by funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, released its 2013 Policy Recommendations to “cultivate a safe, healthy, accessible food supply and build Michigan’s economy.” The report asserts, “by improving access to healthy foods, Michigan has the opportunity to not only improve the health of its residents, but also enhance the growth of local economies and the state’s entire agriculture industry.” A copy of the full report, as well as an executive summary, can be found on the MFPC’s website.

The first recommendation put forth in the report is to, “build capacity of Michigan farmer market sector to increase access to healthier foods.” According to the Michigan Farmers Market Association, the number of farmers markets in Michigan has grown from around 90 in 2001 to more than 300 today. However, 65 percent of these markets don’t yet accept SNAP (formerly the food stamp program) benefits. According to the MFPC report, “an investment in the infrastructure of Michigan’s farmer market sector is a strategy for building the capacity of community-based farmer markets and increasing access in underserved areas.”

The second recommendation is to “help small-scale farms achieve food safety certification to increase their sales to the retail food industry, institutional buyers and consumers.” While these buyers are looking for locally-sourced food, less than 5 percent of Michigan’s 6,500 producers that market directly to consumers participated in a formal USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit in 2010. Since buyers often require third-party food safety certification as a condition of sale, the large majority of direct-to-consumer farmers are presently shut out of wholesale, retail, and institutional sales opportunities. According to the report, “help with GAP compliance for food safety certification would allow more farms to scale up and sell their food to a broader market.”

The third recommendation is to “support a state Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) to provide access to financial capital for job creation.” The HFFI is designed as an alternative financing option to be used to preserve existing, and develop new strategies for the sale of healthy food in underserved communities. These efforts would provide a more accessible and nutritional food supply to Michigan residents who need it most.

Jane Whitacre, director of the Michigan Food Policy Council, has shepherded the MFPC members through the process of examining issues, establishing priorities and creating realistic solutions. Of the timing of the release of the policy report, she said, “Now is a perfect time to build Michigan’s local food sector. The recommendations identify strategies that can spur food and farm business growth, improve health and create jobs. A small investment will produce a big payoff.”

Members of Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems (CFS) team are ready and able to work to implement these recommendations in communities across Michigan. To learn more, visit the CFS webpage.

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