New Initiative Seeks to Advance Farm-to-Institution Procurement in Michigan
March 17, 2014 | Morgan Bulger
Increasingly, food service directors and purchasing officers in schools, hospitals, and other institutions are being tasked with the mission of finding local producers of the food items they buy on a regular basis. They are doing this to support regional food systems, local economies, and the health of their constituents.
A new “Cultivate Michigan” initiative is hoping to make participation in farm-to-institution procurement simple and streamlined in the Mitten State by offering an interactive website and resource bank where institutions can sign a pledge to increase their local procurement, locate information about locally grown food, and identify producers in their area that produce what they need. In addition to driving demand for local food, the initiative will also eventually assist in developing the supply of local food by supporting producers and encouraging them to explore local opportunities.
“The goal is to get large institutions in Michigan to source 20 percent of their food from local producers by 2020,” says Garret Ziegler, a Community Food Systems Educator at Michigan State University’s Center of Regional Food Systems .
Set to launch on April 3, Cultivate Michigan is part of a broader Farm to Institution Network initiative through MSU in partnership with the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor. The launch event will feature an overview of the program, an unveiling of the new website, and a networking session where institutions and producers can begin to form important business-supply chain relationships.
The initiative is currently entirely grant-funded through foundations that had already been supporting other programs either through the Ecology Center or the Michigan Farm to Institution Network. While funding is entirely taken care of for the first year, the program plans to seek funding from the State of Michigan in the form of Farm to School and Institution grants in future program years.
Ziegler hopes that the initiative will have a broad impact on sustainable food systems throughout the state of Michigan by capitalizing on the significant demand of large institutions.
“We hope to increase the amount of local food being purchased around the state,” he says. “By leveraging the buying power of large institutions and coordinating these efforts, we will be able to have a larger human impact.”
Cultivate Michigan will be filling a very important need in the Farm to Institution movement, according to Ziegler. While many institutions express an interest in procuring more local foods, the logistics of identifying products and potential vendors is a time-consuming task that deters many from actualizing their goals. Ziegler notes that this initiative will help to alleviate a lot of the logistical work for institutions hoping to source locally, while also driving more institutions to sign on to a pledge and begin the process. Additionally, Ziegler hopes the program will encourage large-scale producers in Michigan to channel more of their product into local markets rather than national ones.
Providing the tools that institutions and producers need to connect and make local procurement changes a reality is a high priority for Ziegler. He predicts that commodity growers may be the most difficult group to bring on board, because shifting to local markets may involve a total restructuring of their business models. He hopes that by creating an accessible network of opportunities, producers will see the value of the local markets in time.
With the initiative’s “20 % by 2020” goal only six years away, Cultivate Michigan is already thinking about their future.
“The goal of this project is to do something on a state-wide level in order to have the greatest impact,” says Ziegler. “The more we grow this network and the ability for institutions to source locally, the more creative they will be able to get with their sourcing. Twenty percent is just a start. We think their local sourcing can go beyond that, and we’re here to make it as easy as possible.”