The Upper Peninsula Food Exchange (UPFE) is a network of individuals working to support and expand our local food system. I have the privilege of participating in UPFE in two roles. One is as the U.P. Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. The other is as the Market Manager for the UPFE online marketplace, an online platform that allows institutional purchasers to buy local food from multiple farms in one place.
UPFE is excited to host three regional food summits in the eastern, central, and western Upper Peninsula. Planning and executing the summits has been a big task, but the UPFE team pulled together and stepped up to the challenge. We knew we couldn’t wait, as the last U.P. food summit was held three years ago and making farmer and purchaser connections before the next farm season is crucial.
Connecting purchasers with sellers of locally raised, grown, harvested, foraged and produced foods was a key reason for the summits. Farmers & producers wanting to expand their markets are invited to mingle with local restaurants, grocers and other institutions that wish to source more local or are even just curious about the process. At the end of the summits there is a Buyer + Seller Meet & Greet, encouraging new connections. We provide information about what purchasers are looking to buy, as well as what farmers are growing.
The second mission of the summits is to share resources with community members, educators, even policy makers. Each summit has a track geared towards municipal employees and community members interested in working with their municipality. Armed with everything from sample master planning language to resources on allowing small livestock keeping within city limits, Brad Neumann of MSU Extension, and the UPFE Policy Committee, is traveling with us across the UP to make sure communities have the tools needed to help grow their local food systems.
The third element being shared at every summit is the showcase of the new UPFE Online Marketplace. Since I began working for UPFE this past April the group has been discussing moving to an online food hub platform that would be more user friendly, and customizable to encourage more participation from purchasers. The last two months I’ve been communicating with the developers of the program as they’ve set up the new site, helping transfer over current users and their products. I have also been learning a lot about the potential the site and I am excited about the possibility of more purchasers using the platform outside of the central UP.
The last element of the summits is, in my opinion, the most important of all is the networking. The key is initiating the conversation, making the connection or posing the right question on how we truly reach a more successful local food system.
If you are in the Eastern UP, then there is still time to Register for the Food Summit in Brimley being held on December 4th by visiting the Eventbrite EUP Food Summit page.
Alex Palzewicz is the Local Food Projects Coordinator for the U.P. Food Exchange. Questions about the Summits? E-mail her at: [email protected]