Local food system to be focus of summit

MARQUETTE – The Upper Peninsula Food Exchange is hosting a local food summit, “Together at the Table,” Nov. 6 at Northern Michigan University. However, participants don’t have to be food experts to attend.

The event is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the University Center.

Along with one set for Nov. 5 at Dee Stadium in Houghton, these food summits will be the first of their kind in the central and western Upper Peninsula. The Cisler Center at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie will also host a summit for the eastern U.P.

“The nice thing is this is open to everyone, because everyone eats,” said Natasha Lantz, community liaison for the Marquette Food Co-op.

Farmers and restaurant owners are invited, of course, but others urged to attend include representatives from schools, retail outlets and hospitals, as well as economic developers, elected officials and community leaders.

The idea, Lantz said, is to bring everybody together to talk about the local food system and discuss priorities and ways to move forward.

The keynote speaker for all three summits is Ken Meter of the Minneapolis-based Crossroads Resource Center. He has 42 years of experience in inner-city and rural community capacity building.

Meter said if everyone bought $5 in products from farmers in the central U.P., it would generate $45 million in new farm revenue annually.

The importance of fostering local food sources benefits farmers who want to know the people who eat their food, Meter said. It works the other way around with those consumers, too.

“They want to know the farming methods,” Meter said. “They want a place to visit.”

Local farm sources, he said, also are crucial in rebuilding the community fabric and fostering connections. For example, people sitting at a table for a meal is an important part of everyday life.

“It’s a real framework for our culture,” Meter said.

Today’s culture, though, can be challenging. Meter noted nowadays kids can’t even recognize common vegetables because they’re used to getting them in processed or packaged form.

Then there’s the high medical costs associated with obesity and diabetes.

“I think, you know, certainly it’s hard to be a good consumer if you have no idea of what’s involved in raising food,” he said.

After all, Meter noted, milk doesn’t originate from a carton. Other topics to be discussed at the summit include understanding food systems, regional food hub updates, panel discussions with local speakers on overcoming barriers and results, and plans at the Michigan State University U.P. Research and Extension Center.

There will be breakout discussions on local topics and the latest news from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as the U.P. Food Exchange.

Lantz said the exchange is a coalition of entities – MSU Extension, the Western U.P. Health Department and the Marquette Food Co-op – that provides resources to those interested in food issues. A community food system covers a broad spectrum, she said.

“It covers everything from environmental stewardship to communities being vital and healthy places to live,” Lantz said.

Michelle Walk of MSU Extension, who is helping coordinate the summit, said the event will provide a way for people to share information with each other under one roof.

“Part of what it’s about is building networks,” Walk said.

The cost of the NMU summit is $15 and includes lunch, with limited scholarships available. Registration begins that day at 8 a.m. Preregistration ends Wednesday, with registration at the door $20.

For details and to register, visit the website www.upfoodexchange.com or call 225-0671, ext. 11.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.