Q & A with Local Food Movement Expert Rich Pirog of MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems
June 26, 2014 | Susan Botich
Rich Pirog is senior associate director at Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems. His work includes developing a statewide food hub network and providing oversight to new CRFS work groups and communities. Subjects covered in his recent writings include economic impact of local foods, food hubs, and building food value chains to address social, health and economic challenges in the food system.
Seedstock had the opportunity to speak with Pirog about MSU’s CRFS program and his latest publication, The Local Food Movement: Setting the Stage for Good Food.
Seedstock: What prompted you to write The Local Food Movement: Setting the Stage for Good Food?
Pirog: I was commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to research and write about how the local, state and national work around “good food” has matured, including what we have learned and what we still need to do to build capacity so that a “good food” system is available to all. This publication is an initial overview that provides perspective on that evolution of local food within the context of the four elements of good food—healthy, affordable, green, and fair.
Seedstock: Why are the four elements of good food—healthy, affordable, green, and fair—so vital?
Pirog: In order for us to thrive as individuals and members of communities, we need to have a food system that embodies all four elements:
Healthy – to nourish our bodies and minds,
Affordable – such that people of all economic means have the wherewithal to buy or grow this food,
Green – in that we protect our natural resources in growing, processing, distributing and preparing this food,
Fair – in that nobody is exploited along the entire process of growing, harvesting, processing, distributing, cooking, and serving this food – regardless of race, gender, religion, or economic class.
You cannot have a sustainable good food system if one of these four elements is missing.
Seedstock: Why is The Local Food Movement: Setting the Stage for Good Food important?
Pirog: The publication is unique in that it weaves the evolving local food narrative in the U.S. within the context of other very important food-related movements—justice, sovereignty, and structural racism in the food system. Some perceive that farmers are the prime beneficiaries of a more localized good food system; in order for the food system to truly be sustainable, the food system must benefit all stakeholders across the entire food chain as well as all of us as consumers.
Seedstock: What is the demographic of your readership?
Pirog: The publication was first released at the Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Community conference in May 2014, attended by nearly 600 practitioners of the work in local food, food justice, food sovereignty, the environment, and racial equity. This includes people who work at nonprofits, private food businesses, farmers, colleges and universities, state and local governments, as well as foundations and those in the faith community interested in food as a tool for economic empowerment and community well-being.
Seedstock: What are some of the biggest needs for building local food systems identified in the book?
Pirog: One of the things we need to do a better job on in our local food work here in Michigan and across the U.S. is to collect better data that documents the benefits of a good food system and assigns a dollar value to these benefits. This data collection requires collaboration and additional resources; we hope to work with our Michigan partners to collect more data that be combined to show overall impact—we are using a shared measurement system approach.
Seedstock: Why should city and state governments become involved in promoting good food practices?
Pirog: Often city and state governments can provide a small amount of resources that can leverage federal, foundation, and private investment dollars into building the infrastructures needed for a good food system. In Michigan, there are plans underway to develop a Michigan Good Food Fund that will build grant and loan dollars to make sure that no communities are left behind when it comes to healthy food access, and food as local, economic development opportunities.
Here in Michigan, we have the Michigan Good Food Charter www.michiganfood.org. – a set of goals and priority actions to which we hope to achieve by 2020 so that all Michiganders have access to good food.