FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MANISTEE and BENZONIA, MICHIGAN — If you’re a farmer, food processor, restaurant or consumer of locally grown foods in northwest Michigan, the Lakes to Land Regional Initiative wants your input on a “Farm and Food System Assessment.” The Assessment will be used to set priorities for addressing farm and food issues and opportunities within the Lakes to Land Region consisting of 10 townships, four villages, two cities and a Tribal government spanning portions of Benzie and Manistee Counties. The report was completed this summer with the support of the firm Beckett & Raeder, Michigan State University Intern Cassie Meitl, and a volunteer team from Lakes to Land communities. Leadership team members Sharron May and Betsy Evans continue to work on soliciting feedback from survey participants and recruiting new leadership team members. The assessment report was funded under a grant from the Michigan Dept. of Treasury Competitive Grant Assistance Program. The report is available on-line by going to lakestoland.org and clicking on the Food and Farm Systems tab. Comments should be directed to the L2L website (under the Food and Farm System tab), Sharron May (firstname.lastname@example.org), Betsy Evans (email@example.com), or mail (L2L Farm & Food, PO Box 89, Benzonia, MI 49616). Comments received by November 15, 2014 will be included in the final “Farm and Food System Assessment” report which is expected to be completed by December 31, 2014.
“This effort is one of the early implementation efforts of the Lakes to Land Regional Initiative,” said Brad Hopwood, Manistee County business owner and Co-Chair of the Initiative. “Agriculture was one of the shared priorities of many of the Lakes to Land communities and this report will be used to identify potential projects for implementation that will benefit the farmers, processors and consumers of our agricultural bounty.”
“The assessment involved personal interviews and surveys with growers and local food-related enterprises throughout the Lakes to Land area,” said Sharron May, a member of the Lakes to Land Leadership Team who owns a Benzie County farm. “It identifies a number of strategies based on that input and we’re seeking input from everyone before we firm up priorities and move forward with implementation.”
A total of 84 growers, food processors, food retailers and restaurants and food distributors were either interviewed or surveyed during the course of the project.
Some of the Farm and Food strategies recommended in the assessment include:
- Developing shared access to cold storage facilities, refrigerated and freezer trucks, processing equipment and individually quick frozen (IQF) facilities.
- Labor reform, a guest worker program and a farmer trade school to address the shortage of farm workers.
- Improve access to necessary utilities such as 3-phase electrical power, natural gas, internet and cell phone service.
- A network of experts to help farmers and food processors gain access to capital in the form of grants and loans as well as assist in business development and education.
- A centralized hub for aggregating food for distribution.
- The use of zoning and land conservation programs to encourage protection and active use of agricultural soils.
The Assessment points out that there are 505 farms in the two counties encompassing nearly 65,000 acres.
“This assessment will help to ensure that the Lakes to Land priorities directly reflect the ideas and opinions of those who rely on farms and locally grown foods for their livelihood,” said Hopwood. “This should be of significant value to many, including the Manistee County Board of Commissioners who recently called for a county-wide game plan for agriculture in their strategic plan for the County.”