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Looking for Local Along the InterstatePrint

Food & Farming | December 17, 2010 | By Janice Benson

Sometimes I wonder what it was like in days past, when people traveled by stagecoach, stopping along the way at inns and taverns for rest and food. It must have been pretty rough, especially in winter, with long stretches between towns. The welcome lights of a tavern surely made them sigh in relief.

I imagine a roaring fire, the warm smells of hearty fare cooking in the kitchen, and lively conversation.  Roasted venison or pheasant, perhaps? Maybe fresh caught fish, roasted chestnuts, cherry compote, dried apples? A frothy ale or mulled cider?  And it would be so flavorful, as each town served up its local specialties.

How times have changed!

When traveling across the country these days, the food choices are rarely so exciting. Stops along turnpikes and highways offer “convenient,” not so fresh, rather generic, usually unhealthy food. In protest, my husband and I make a point of getting off the highway whenever we can and heading into the small towns to seek out family restaurants on “Main Street.”

We don’t always find a “local” meal, but we try. And at least we’re supporting a local business! We also stock our car with plenty of local snacks from home to eat along the way (apples, carrots, cheeses, granola, Pleasanton cookies, jerky), so we won’t have to succumb to less-healthy options.

I’m pleased to say that travelers stopping in many of our small northern Michigan towns, looking for local fare, will be delighted to find quite a bit of it!  Many restaurants and grocers feature fresh local items, and we have many local specialty food shops brimming with farm fresh fare.

Here are just a few examples…

Visitors stopping in at Art’s Tavern, in Glen Arbor, would be thrilled to find buffalo burgers and fresh-caught whitefish. Those passing through Petoskey would be wowed with the fresh homemade soups and local green salads of Julienne Tomatoes. An early morning in Frankfort would lead to slices of warm, delicious, fresh-baked bread and local jams at the Crescent Bakery.

The list of businesses in our region that offer local food on their menu continues to grow. More and more people are talking about it, asking about it, trying to support our local farms.

And I love to hear visitors tell me the Taste the Local Difference guide is the first thing they look for when they get here each year.

“I go right to the Visitor’s Center and get my copy!” they tell me.

Others climb up that long set of stairs to our office to get one directly from us.  It’s exciting!

Agriculture is the history of this region and people know it; if they are new to the region, they will leave knowing it. Our bounty is worth proclaiming! We are a welcome oasis for today’s highway travelers looking for a little bit of local.

Janice Benson leads the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Taste the Local Difference program. Reach her atjanice@mlui.org.