A Watershed Moment for NE Michigan’s Regional Food System

America’s highly productive food system is one of its beloved accomplishments. But the environment has paid a high price for this abundance, especially our rivers, streams, and lakes. In fact, according to the EPA’s National Water Quality Inventory Report, agriculture is considered to be “the most widespread source of impairment in the nation’s assessed lake acres.” Industrial agriculture is among the leading causes of water pollution in the United States today. Data indicates this method of food production often wastes large quantities of water, even when nearby communities are experiencing water shortages (check out California’s nut production dilemma).

maeap+logo-300x200Farms utilizing sustainable practices such as transitioning to organic certification; natural pest management; getting verified with the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program; embracing urban agriculture and food forests; employing rotational grazing; pasturing animals; and long-term fertilizer and manure management are much less costly to the resilience of our food supply, soil, water, and natural environment. Restorative agricultural methods can prevent erosion and reinvigorate soil fertility, improve plant growth and diversity, and conserve watershed habitats. Ultimately, if farms are working conscientiously to balance the local ecology, our food systems, local habitats, and waterways would improve.

With all this correlative impact on our communities and water resources, it overjoys this writer to announce a new partnership between Taste the Local Difference and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The 18th Annual Fourth of July Maritime Festival hosted by the Sanctuary this year will be a Certified Local Food Event (CLFE). Being certified speaks to the mission of an event, as the program requires at least 20% of the total ingredients used be locally sourced from an identifiable local food and farm producer (our partners have managed to reach 95%+ locally sourced events). Additionally, committing to being a CLFE means this event will be a zero waste initiative. As a zero waste event, the Maritime Festival will actively work to reduce, recycle, and compost as much as possible with the goal to steer clear of the landfill. You can directly help to promote healthier waterways and restorative farming practices by committing to support small, sustainable farms and Certified Local Food Events in your community just like this one!  

What else can you do?

-Did you know Taste the Local Difference tracks data on all of our farming partners? You can look up any farm we’re partnered with throughout Michigan to see if they’re: USDA Certified Organic; Certified Naturally Grown; MAEAP Certified; USDA GAP Certified; Demeter Biodynamic Certified; or Michigan Food Risk Assessment compliant.

-You can also find a store, winery, brewery, or restaurant near you offering locally-sourced ingredients at our website and choose to spend your dollars there.

-Know your farmer. Visit your local farmers’ market or join a CSA (community supported agriculture group) and buy your food directly from a farm.

-Attend the 18th Annual Thunder Bay Maritime Festival, purchase food from our verified local food vendors, and recycle/compost all your trash from the event! This event will take place Wednesday, July 4th, at 500 W Fletcher St. in Downtown Alpena from 10am-4pm.

Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for Northeast Michigan. She enjoys digging, planting, and hiking in the dirt; cooking up her own recipes; drinking wine; and eating lots of fresh, seasonal produce (and anything deep-fried, in accordance with her southern heritage). Contact her at [email protected]