Michigan’s Food Economy in Action

Food brings people together! Whether it’s over soil, tending to seedlings; over the table, passing a plate; or in your neighborhood corridor, sampling local treats: food is communal. It takes many hands to bring the produce, products and plates to our tables. Fortunately, Michigan has a rich food economy, being the second most diverse agricultural producer in the country (according to the USDA) and is home to a robust restaurant and food retail industry (I mean seriously, if you had to pick your favorite restaurant or Michigan food you’d be hard pressed to pick just one!).

During September, People First Economy celebrates food buisnesses via Nourish Our Community. We believe that nourishing our community means providing the ingredients necessary for growth, health, and equity within the food economy so that the environment, businesses, and local communities thrive. Follow along this month as we highlight the ideas, resources, partners that help build a stronger food system – and most importantly the people behind the food economy that make it all possible!

As the local food movement has evolved, so has the desire to know how our food is sourced and how it arrives to our restaurants, markets, and tables. According to SupplyChainX, we have five major players in the food system to thank:

  • the grower;
  • the processing center, where that food is collected;
  • the regional distribution center;
  • the local retailer (aka, maker, restaurant or grocer);
  • the hungry consumer
  • and, we would add, nutrient managers (aka, the composters/food waste handlers).

Roll call!

Heffron Farms is a four generation, family-owned farm offering a variety of naturally raised beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. They believe that food has become anonymous, mass produced and far from anything our ancestors grew up eating. Their markets offer local dairy products and other healthy natural products. Heffron Farms strives to make buying quality meats a personal experience. Their markets offer hormone free, flavorful meats with the original concept of nourishment from Heffron Farms.

Cattle will spend anywhere between twelve to eighteen months at Heffron Farms, nestled in Belding, Michigan. Dave Guthrie, a hand at the farm, says, “It makes me feel good offering local flavor to our clients because we can tell them exactly where it came from!”

Once our ingredients are grown with care, they’re off to be processed!

Cellar Door Preserves, creator of small batch artisan preserves, takes great care to learn where their produce comes from!

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan is home to 2166 licensed food processors generating $25 billion in economic activity. What happens to all that raw produce Michigan generates? It’s sent to a processor to become an ingredient or product that could end up on your shelf.

Cellar Door Preserves are made from Michigan fruit that highlight the terroir of the upper Midwest. Additionally, Cellar Door is a member of the Fair Food Project. This program is a solution provided by Migrant Legal Aid to ensure equitable and humane treatment of farmworkers and their families. Migrant Legal Aid partners with food producers, retailers, and employers to improve the quality of produce and the condition for farmworkers.

Having been processed to a high standard, our ingredients must make their way across the state.

Gordon Water Systems is a second generation, family-owned business that focuses on providing families and businesses with clean, safe water for their homes and businesses. They provide clean soft water to protect appliances and water using fixtures plus help lower your utility bills, as well as, clean, safe water for drinking. You may have seen Gordon Water Systems on the road delivering water to the friends, families and businesses you love!

Tom Duisterhof, an owner at Gordon Water Systems says, “everything from health, to care and concern for our water; teammates; and clients is what makes us different.” And it’s true! Gordon Water Systems goes to great length to keep the water flowing through their systems standardized and make the delivery process smooth for the customer and their delivery staff (down to the orientation of the handles on their jugs for easy pickup and delivery).

Every day, Gordon Water Systems is filling 2200 jugs of water that are distributed to residents, businesses, universities, etc. across West Michigan. Distributers are core to making our local supply chains effective! Local sourcing enables organizations to adapt quickly to shifting consumer demands, is more sustainable and ethical, facilitates meaningful buyer-supplier relationships, and is becoming more cost-effective. To learn more about the benefits of local sourcing visit Pure Michigan Business Connect!

Our newly distributed produce is ready for food makers and sellers in the retail and restaurant industry!

Daddy’s Dough is a family-owned business and food maker specializing in homemade cookies using quality ingredients with the cutest origin story. After years of baking cookies for family and friends, MarcQus Wright’s then five-year-old daughter, Mariah, recommended that he start a business to share our cookies with everyone (“Daddy you should sell your cookies. They are so good!”).

Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association reports that the food service industry’s workforce is projected to grow by 500,000 jobs, for total industry employment of 15.5 million by the end of 2023. Our local food businesses pave the way to employ our friends and family and keep our money close to home.

Daddy’s Dough Cookies, “[likes] to partner with other businesses to make a positive impact on Michigan’s food economy,” going as far as to partner with other cookie companies, recognizing that there’s power in consumer choice. Learn more about the partnerships that have helped Daddy’s Dough scale into Bridge Street Market on the People First Economy Podcast.

With our tasty ingredients now made into consumable products, it’s time to feed the hungry customer!

GR8 Food Trucks, led by Underground Cookie Club owner Alan Tomlinson, helps bring consumers together for local curated food truck events. Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association reports that consumers want curated food experiences: 84% of consumers say going out for a meal with family and friends is a better use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up. GR8 Food Truck’s mission is to promote food truck culture in Grand Rapids and throughout all western Michigan.  They do this by helping create, organize, promote & provide logistics for some of the area’s largest and best food truck focused events.

After Alan’s nearly twenty years of restaurant industry experience, he noticed a shifting trend in community-based food experiences via food trucks. Once he was a part of the food truck community, he fell in love with the experience. Alan has found that through curating events and hosting his own truck, he’s able to serve many returning customers who love having a way to connect directly into the local food movement. He cites that most food trucks participating in Food Truck Fridays and the like source their ingredients from local farmers and producers, and aid consumers in having farm to table meals.

With happy belly’s, let’s now look at what happens to the leftover food scraps and goods not consumed.

Perfect Circle Recycling provides an alternative to traditional waste management and helps businesses divert waste from landfills, focus on sustainability, and create the perfect circle from waste. According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, every year U.S. landfills and trash incinerators receive 167 million tons of garbage. Over 50% of typical municipal garbage set out at the curb is compostable. Of the remaining garbage, 21% is food scraps alone! Waste Management businesses help to ensure that food scraps and unused foods find proper outlets.

The team at PCR is, “extremely proud [to have diverted] over 14 million pounds of organic materials, plastic, cardboard, metals, and pallets from the landfill while also steadily growing through the 2020 pandemic.” They have developed a unique alternative for our community’s mounting piles of trash by treating this so-called waste material as a management of materials.

Perfect Circle Recycling’s mission is to enhance Michigan’s capabilities of recycling all packaged food and beverage waste products. Their programs allow waste to be converted into usable forms, such as renewable energy, compost, and fertilizer.

This is Michigan’s food economy in action! These businesses, alongside many other owners, staff members and entrepreneurs; aid our communities in crafting a robust and ever evolving food economy from the growing process through the waste management process.

Learn more about Nourish Our Community and find more of Michigan’s food-based businesses on the People First Economy Directory.

Nourish Our Community is presented by Bridge Street Market and supported by Michigan Good Food Fund and Fair Food Network.

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