Farm to Institution Study Finds That Washtenaw County Ideal for Increasing Local Food Economy

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The Washtenaw County Food Policy Council (WCFPC), the Ecology Center, and New Growth Associates release a new study identifying the gaps between farmers and institutional purchasing in Washtenaw County and outline recommendations to strengthen the local food economy.

With support from the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, this study was commissioned by the Ecology Center and Washtenaw County Food Policy Council to evaluate the state of the county in the farm-to-institution sector of the local food system.

The research overwhelmingly concludes that an ideal set of conditions exist for the widespread adoption of local food trade for this region. When it comes to farms participating in intermediate sales of local foods, 3.1% of Michigan farms sell to intermediate outlets, higher than the national average of 2.3% of farms. In Washtenaw County, however, 4.8% of farms sell to retailers (USDA-NASS, 2014), suggesting a stronger than average engagement in local and intermediate markets by area farmers.

Producers are eager to consistently supply area institutions with large volumes of produce at wholesale prices and are willing to change their crop production plans to do so. However, institutional purchasers are navigating complex systems, multiple layers of management, constrained budgets, and long established habits that hinder widespread adoption of hyper local purchasing priorities, thus institutional procurement of local foods is still in its infancy. Yet, if each institution interviewed increased their local spending to 20% of their food budget, a goal promoted through Cultivate Michigan, this would create an additional direct impact of $2.0 million annually on the local food and farm sectors.

In a recent interview, Megan Phillips Goldenberg, Founder and Owner of New Growth Associates, stated that the study, “Will be instrumental to moving this work forward and accelerating the sales of local food from local farms to local institutions.”  Furthermore, Jae Gerhart, the new Washtenaw County Local Foods Coordinator with Michigan State Extension, Greening Michigan Institute, funded by the Washtenaw County Act 88 program, expressed, “I’m thrilled that the primary recommendation from this study, to hire a local foods coordinator, has already been acted upon.”

While this is a big step forward, more research is required to fully understand the intricacies of local purchasing programs. This study has shown the growing interest and need by both local area food producers and larger institutions to work together, increasing opportunities and strengthening the local economy in Washtenaw County.

To access the full report, click here.

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