What is a Food Hub? Part III: Michigan Hubs

We wanted to continue our blog series on food hubs by returning close to home here in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development recently awarded $1.9 million in grant funding to 14 projects across the state that focus on both regional food systems planning and value-added production. Here at the Washtenaw Food Hub, we are grateful for our grant and want to tell you about some of the other regional food system projects happening statewide. We will start in Southeast Michigan, with our own project at the Washtenaw Food Hub.

With MDARD funding, we are making improvements to existing facilities to support food aggregation, storage, processing, and distribution. To do this, we are beginning construction – insulation and wall framing has begun!  In addition, we are in conversation with various suppliers about using WFH as a possible distribution site for farm needs – for compost, chicken feed, seed-starting soil, and more. We are also providing space for a number of CSA farms and an online farmers market to distribute food. And we are developing the capacity to serve as a single point of contact between local producers and institutional, retail, and wholesale markets (like  schools, restaurants and grocery stores).

An important part of our work up to now has been reaching out and networking with other organizations doing similar work. A few sites we’ve visited so far include The Starting Block commercial kitchen in Hart, MI;  the Uptown Kitchen in Grand Rapids, MI, and the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen (NOCK) near Toledo, OH. If you’re not familiar with these organizations, be sure to browse their websites. As support for the WFH and other similar projects grows, we are constantly reminded that this work is about building long-lasting relationships.

Other MDARD funded Food Hub projects are also working on building relationships across the state. For example, Forgotten Harvest works throughout Southeast Michigan, rescuing surplus food from many institutions and producers and donating it to emergency food locations in Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties. Thanks to grant funding from MDARD, Forgotten Harvest, in collaboration with Detroit Eastern Market, will now be able to process fresh fruit and vegetables for emergency food use.

Moving on to Lansing, we find The Allen Street Food Hub, which is affiliated with the Allen Neighborhood Center.Allen Street 7166224393_c9d35c7550

This hub is located in a previously unused warehouse and will serve a number of functions. First, it will allow the Allen Street Farmers Market to expand to year-round operation. The space’s community kitchen will allow area food businesses to produce value-added goods and also provide space for educational opportunities. The warehouse will also offer food storage space to producers in the region. Finally, the hub will also be an aggregation and distribution point that links producers and institutional buyers in the area. ANC believes that “the Food Hub will catalyze a whole new set of food, energy, entrepreneurial, and health related initiatives to enrich public and private life in the region.”

The YMCA Veggie Van, located in Grand Rapids, also received an MDARD grant.

Veggie_Mobile_8.23.11_images 001 The year-round service boasts that it is West Michigan’s first and only mobile farmers market! Sara Vander Zanden, the YMCA’s Healthy Living Agriculture Manager, says that the YMCA Veggie Van has grown tremendously since its initiation in August 2011. Securing funding from MDARD has made it possible to expand even further upon a program that has shown astonishing growth. Now, in addition to selling affordable fruits and vegetables at community centers, the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids is making healthy, prepared food available to manufacturers, students, and elderly neighbors and proud to be on the cutting edge of food access and education in their community. To learn more about the Veggie Van, including services offered and upcoming locations, click here.

The Grand Traverse Regional Market is striving to turn a portion of a former psychiatric hospital into a regional food hub.

P2260514The campus, currently known as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, is a mixed-use area dedicated to residential, commercial, and retail spaces. The Regional Market will include an indoor farmers market, food processing centers, and industrial kitchens (for both business incubation and educational opportunities). You can read more about it here or watch this video from the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.

In the Upper Peninsula we find the U.P. Local Food Network, headquartered at the Marquette Food Co-op. This network will provide resources for farmers to store and distribute their products. The goal is to eventually work across the entire Upper Peninsula, a very broad geographic range! Natasha Lantz, the Marquette Food Co-op’s community liaison, describes the project in this local news clip. To learn more about the history of the project and what it’s taken to get it up and running, you can read this article from Cooperative Grocer.

Do you want to know more about the growing network of food hubs in Michigan? This is a good place to start.

Although we are not including full descriptions of the value added producer grants in this post, you can see a full list of all 14 MDARD-funded projects here. Be sure to check out some of these projects. They cover everything from livestock processing to the production of fruit, wreaths, and even powdered sugar!

As you can see, there is a lot happening with Michigan agriculture! We are excited about all the great work done by dynamic people and organizations to build up regional food systems in Michigan, and we are thrilled to be a part of it. If you or someone you know is doing good work, we want to hear about it. Drop us a line at washtenawfoodhubevents@gmail.com and tell us what you’re up to. Who knows, you may even be featured on our blog in the future!

Let’s keep up the good work of learning more, getting our hands dirty and growing something, or simply eating good Michigan products – it all helps us grow a more robust regional food system.

In the meantime, we would love to hear from you! Email us any time. Additionally, if you haven’t done so already, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our monthly newsletters.

Locally yours,

The WFH team

 

Photos courtesy of Allen Neighborhood Center, The YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, and Grand Traverse Regional Market

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