I’m not bragging, but there are a lot of cool things about my job as the NE Local Food Coordinator with Taste the Local Difference. I get to hang out with other local farmers, producers, and small business owners; I get to eat the food they’ve grown or created; drink the libations they’ve conceived; partake of their businesses’ inventions; help put on events celebrating their work; and tell everybody how great this region of Michigan is because of these people and their labors of love. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
But, identifying organizations that could benefit from grant funds meant to increase access to healthy, local food is far and away, my favorite aspect of working with TLD (which is probably why I write about it so much). As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, TLD partnered with the Center for Disease Control to bring Building Healthy Communities funding to this region. The overall goal of the grant is to “increase the availability of healthy food options in vending, concession, cafeterias and congregate meal sites throughout communities in northern Michigan.” Through this funding, TLD has helped put salad bars and other equipment in schools and groceries; fund education on eating locally; connect businesses with local growers and producers; empower businesses to buy equipment to upgrade their kitchens; and put in water filters throughout northern Michigan.
I also had the opportunity to work with Northeast Michigan Community Mental Health (NEMCMH) to use funds to put in a garden this past summer and provide ongoing classes to clients there on cooking and gardening through next spring. I just recently stopped in to see Audra Leininger, a fellow representative of NEMCOG, as she was teaching a “What To Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers” class. She was working with about five clients to make turkey and dumplings, stuffed mushrooms, and apple crisp. Audra has an ease in the kitchen that is infectious and makes the act of cooking even more gratifying. The participants were thrilled and engaged. Amy Attwell, a Nutrition Instructor at MSU Extension Alpena, will also be doing some cooking and life skills classes with the group. And in the spring, Dion Stepanski of Presque Isle Farm will meet with the group to discuss soil fertility, season extension, and other techniques to improve their garden yields.
I look forward to sharing more in our newsletters about the upcoming classes; and hopefully next visit I’ll have time to stay and taste everything!
Molly Stepanski is the local food coordinator for Northeast Michigan. She also operates Presque Isle Farm with her husband, Dion, and son, Sawyer. Contact her at [email protected]