The Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees named “land use” as a priority to address in 2006. Several years later, we took another look at where there were opportunities to move forward in this broad area. We reviewed many existing documents, including task force reports, master plans, watershed plans, and other community surveys and studies. We interviewed many individuals to learn from their expertise in and perspectives on land use. Three areas repeatedly showed up: water quality, land preservation, and maintaining our rural character.
In our community, we have several very strong nonprofit organizations working in the areas of water quality and land preservation. The area that wasn’t being specifically addressed was the concept of our ‘rural character’. The Petoskey Area Open Space Task Force Conservation Plan (June 2004) summarizes what we found in many other documents and interviews: the people of our community “value of the area’s rural character and small town atmosphere… [and] the natural environment and outdoor recreational activities that define the northern Michigan lifestyle.” Also important was the “contribution undeveloped land makes to their activities and sense of place.”
Local agriculture is an essential element of rural character. Again and again we saw and heard that area farms were under pressure and that unless farming can provide a living for families who want to farm, we would continue to lose our community’s agricultural assets. We saw an opportunity for the Community Foundation to play a leading role in increasing the viability of local agriculture in order to preserve that rural landscape and culture. Supporting the development of a local food system in our community makes good sense, and here’s why:
- Food grown and purchased locally encourages us to make connections with the farmer, the land, and the food, strengthening relationships in our community
- Local foods encourage healthy lifestyles by making fresh, delicious fruits, vegetables, and other foods more accessible
- There are environmental benefits to locally grown food, such as reduced energy costs, wildlife habitat, and the potential for more sustainable agricultural practices
- Buying locally-grown food keeps a larger portion of each food dollar within the local economy and supports entrepreneurial farmers and small businesses
- Small- and medium-scale farms maintain the social, economic and environmental health of rural communities
- Re-localizing the food system – relying on more local and regional sources for our food needs – creates valuable markets that help keep farmers farming and increases the awareness of the importance of preserving local farmland.
So far, the Community Foundation’s activities have focused on raising awareness of our local food and farming (Farm and Farmers Market Map; From Farm to Frame Photo Contest); providing access to education for farmers (scholarships to the Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference); and convening (debrief for local farmers following the Small Farms Conference, support for the Local Food Alliance).
The Community Foundation’s Initiative Committee will set the direction for the Good Food Initiative with expertise provided by Good Food Advisors—local farmers, educators, and business people. We believe that developing and strengthening our community’s capacity to re-localize the food system is timely and relevant. The people of our community are receptive to the idea and there is significant interest and momentum, creating opportunities for leveraging, catalyzing, and partnering. For all of the reasons noted here, the Community Foundation has committed to use our resources, financial and otherwise, to grow our community’s local food system.
The Community Foundation borrowed some language about local food systems from the Capital Area Food Profile prepared by The C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University.