HOUGHTON — After stopping in Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, the U.P. Food Summit made its way to the Copper Country Thursday in an effort to spread awareness on the importance of keeping locally-produced foods in Michigan.
Ray Sharp from the Western U.P. Health Department is one of the event’s organizers, and he said summits like this allows for food providers and distributors to discuss the problems that are specific to the western U.P.
“We have a lot of great, small agriculture in the U.P. and we have new younger farmers that are getting started,” he said. “Some of the challenges include the short growing season. A lot of people are experimenting with hoop houses to extend the season.”
The events keynote speaker was Evan Smith, the senior operations manager of Cherry Capitol Foods in Traverse City. His business distributes anything that is produced in Michigan, but he says he understands the difficulties in promoting local food distribution.
“Most of the large broad line distributors have difficulty managing small farm pickups and deliveries,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is focus on that niche that’s not being served, and we can do some things that they can’t and it’s really an advantage for the smaller producers and this emerging local food system.”
The event also discussed the success behind the Farm to Table project currently going on at Jeffers High School in Painesdale. Smith said programs like that show the results of collaborations to get more local foods in schools, as well as restaurants, hospitals and businesses.
“If you think about the fact that the state of Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse in the country and we’ve got about four growing seasons, we have an opportunity to connect the U.P. with the Lower Peninsula in a way that benefits the entire state,” he said.
Many organizations across the state have signed on with the Michigan Good Food charter with the goal that by the year 2020, twenty percent of the food grown in the state should be consumed within Michigan. It may seem like a lofty goal, but those that are involved are determined to make it happen.