Women in Food: Natasha Lantz Helps Build Food Co-op in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
September 16, 2014 | AJ Hughes
This article is part of a Seedstock series profiling women who are leading change in sustainable agriculture and local food. Read more here.
In 2003, Natasha Lantz became a member and started volunteering at the Marquette Food Co-op, a store that sells locally-produced food in Marquette, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula. Now, she serves as the organization’s outreach director.
As a volunteer, Lantz found herself unloading trucks, pricing merchandise and stocking shelves. She enjoyed her work, but noticed that not much outreach to the community was taking place. She asked management if she could start a bulletin board—this was approved. She later successfully ran for a position on the Co-op’s board of directors, and kept volunteering.
Her bosses noticed that her bulletin board and other outreach efforts were bringing results, so she was hired for a part-time outreach position. She then resigned from the board and came on board as outreach coordinator in 2005.
Outreach efforts included continuation of the bulletin board, a newsletter and other community-oriented communication. Her efforts continued to yield results, and Lantz was hired as a full-time outreach coordinator in 2006.
By then, Lantz was encouraging the Co-op to feature classes and other educational opportunities to get the word out about good food. Now, cooking classes take place every Tuesday at the Co-op. Getting to Know Your Co-op classes are scheduled on the second Monday of every month. The Co-op also organizes regular periodic tours of local farms, so its members can get to know local farmers better.
Now, Lantz focuses her efforts on educating people in the community about healthy eating and what qualifies as good food.
“We have a robust outreach system,” Lantz says. “It’s a larger outreach system than most.”
But due to realities that were facing the Co-op, Lantz feels that extensive outreach efforts were, and are, needed. A main reason is the relatively remote Upper Peninsula location of Marquette.
“We don’t have thousands of people walking by each day,” she says.
A farmers’ market is a key component of the Marquette Food Co-op, but according to Lantz, consistent selling of food at the market depended on “selling” to customers first by way of education.
“Classes are a great way to introduce people to new concepts and new food,” says Lantz. “The market and outreach went hand in hand.”
Lantz says that even though Marquette is the largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it has lacked the presence of food and agriculture nonprofit organizations.
“So we started to fill in the gaps,” she says.
Other educational programs offered by the Co-op include hoop house classes and programs designed to teach children where their food comes from.
Lantz first fell in love with farming when she grew up on a small farm in lower western Michigan. She was involved in 4-H and was a part of her rural community.
As an adult, her love of farming has matured—health concerns spurred a renewed interest in food and its sources. As a result, she began to read and watch films about food and farming, and then translated her knowledge into action and community involvement. Increasingly, she saw the huge link between health and food.
“Food and farming were always at the forefront of my mind,” she says.
Because of her knowledge of the relationship between food, agriculture and healthcare, Lantz began to see food and farming as a social issue. Now, Lantz is passionate about transforming the health of food systems, and she channels this passion in her outreach efforts for Marquette Food Co-op.
But her work has not been without challenges, one of them being the disconnect (and disinterest) many people have in their food and where it comes from. She also feels that many feel powerless to change unhealthy food systems, and she wishes everyone knew that they can make a difference with how they spend their food dollars.
Her two mentors Lantz has never met, but they have had a significant impact on her life nonetheless. They include John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World; and farmer and writer Eliot Coleman, co-operator of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine.
“Robbins provided the impetus to become involved in food change, and Coleman inspired many northern climate farmers,” Lantz says.
Lantz’s main future goal is to invest in hope for the future of agriculture. “I don’t want to talk about agriculture in a context in which there is conventional agriculture and non-conventional agriculture—just agriculture,” she says.
She would like all of agriculture to respect health, the environment, animals and communities. She envisions a global system of agriculture in which her conversations about alternative or local agriculture are no longer needed.
“The key is working together.”