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Takeaways from the Local Food Summit in Ann Arbor

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – If one thing can be said about the food community here in Ann Arbor, it's that there is a deep concern for the local food system, and farmers, distributors and consumers embrace each other as they do the land.

This was on full display on Monday at the 10th annual Local Food Summit at Washtenaw Community College.

Although it was a structured event, the atmosphere was very casual. It felt almost like a high school reunion -- swap the dresses and dinner jackets for flannel shirts and jeans -- where old friends were catching up; sharing experiences and successes.


Attendees discuss the future of farmers markets (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Among the event-goers were local farmers, business owners, members of nonprofits, activists, educators, students and members of the public.

They gathered to discuss the challenges and threats facing their industry, but to also celebrate the local food system and to show support for their mutual goals.

Organizers of the event included Slow Food Huron Valley, a nonprofit working to safeguard our food heritage and revitalize the local food system, and Jae Gerhart, Washtenaw County Local Foods Coordinator.


(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

The keynote speaker, Shakara Tyler, PhD, gave a fascinating talk about the importance of African-American farming and her personal experience reconnecting to the land. She took us on a journey of race, roots, identity and recovery, entitled "Our Hands Have Been Here Before: Recovering Community Through Soil, Seeds, Stories."

Among topics covered in group discussions and interactive talks with experts were farmers markets, edible landscapes, food waste, the Farm Bill, food access and insecurity, co-op development, women in small-scale meat production and beekeeping.


Zero Waste Washtenaw volunteers aimed to minimize as much waste as possible at the event (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Here are some things I learned:

  • In Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, lots of farmers are first generation. It is not something inherited or passed down by family, it is a fresh start and a combination of determination and guts to help change the local food landscape.
  • Due to recent budget cuts, the farming industry has suffered a major hit, making it harder for new farmers to get a start and maintain an operation.
  • Thanks to Tilian Farm Development Center, a farming incubator, if you will, several local farms have been able to take off and thrive. 
  • Agri-tourism. This was a new term to me. Groups discussed ways in which farms can attract more visitors, and therefore more revenue, by offering family-friendly activities and on-site shops.
  • The University of Michigan serves a variety of locally-grown foods, including fruits and vegetables from its student farm. One manager of the north campus dining hall told me she regularly puts up posters and tries to engage the students and inform them where their food comes from.

90% of the food served at the summit was provided by local farms and businesses, including Seeley Farm, Argus Farm Stop, Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory, Fluffy Bottom Farms, Whitney Farm, Roos Roast, Sparrow Market, and People's Food Coop and many more.


A sampling of freshly squeezed DROUGHT juices (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Another highlight was when the organizers announced this year's five 'Food Heroes'. These are farmers who have made an outstanding impact on the community. They were:


Argus Farm Stop co-owner Kathy Sample leads a group discussion on the Farm Bill (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Seeing the support for these local food heroes seemed to solidify the sense of purpose for so many in the room and the pride in their day-to-day work.

I look forward to attending the 11th annual Local Food Summit next year and seeing new and familiar faces in this truly extraordinary community.

Related reading:

The Lunch Room: Investing in food, people and community

Argus Farm Stop: Bringing local back to the community, one farmer at a time

In pictures: Ann Arbor Farmers Market gets a festive new look

How a local farm feeds Ann Arbor residents year-round with unique share program

Buy local: Ann Arbor's Restaurant Week 2018 takes a new direction

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