** This column originally appeared in the Nov. 28 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle
In Michigan, only 13 percent of adults eat the daily amount of fruit that health experts say is best for our health, and even fewer — only 7 percent — eat the recommended amount of vegetables.
Yet Michigan is the second most diverse agricultural state in the nation — second only to California in the variety of fruits, vegetables and other products our farmers grow.
Those two facts underscore an opportunity to create a welcome new picture — one in which people are easily, and happily, eating lots of fruits and vegetables; farms are thriving with new sales; local economies are stronger; and we celebrate community ties.
Because of collaboration between the organizers of two back-to-back conferences in January at the Grand Traverse Resort, farmers now can learn practical tips on how to tap into wellness markets in hospitals, schools and workplaces. Employers, hospitals, schools, health practitioners and others at the same time can learn their own practical tips on how to use local farm foods to benefit their health and wellness initiatives.
The conferences are Farms, Food & Health on Friday, Jan. 29, and the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference on Saturday, Jan. 30, which typically attracts 1,000 attendees.
Here’s an example of just one of three breakout sessions that will be featured at both conferences:
The acclaimed FairShare CSA program in Wisconsin works with employers large and small on how to make it convenient and fun for busy employees to get fruit and vegetables delivered from farms to or near their work sites. Three Wisconsin insurance companies even collaborate with the program, providing partial payment for the deliveries — similar to paying for smoking cessation clinics.
Sharing tips on such programs will be Erika Jones, executive director of FairShare, along with Bill Herman, human resources director of a Wisconsin manufacturer that participates in the program. He hails it as a vital part of the company’s wellness initiatives. Farms are benefiting from FairShare, too. Last year 14 farms saw $256,076 in sales through all of FairShare’s participating companies.
Other breakout sessions common to the two conferences are on farm-to-school and farm-to-hospital purchasing.
Daphne Miller, physician and author of the books Jungle Effect and Farmacology, will speak at each conference. She’ll also be the evening keynote speaker in a separate talk open to both audiences and the general public at 7 p.m. Friday.
Immediately before that evening keynote talk, a Farmer-Buyer Meet and Greet will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., coordinated by the organizers of both conferences. It will provide an opportunity for farmers to meet hospital, school and other wellness buyers interested in purchasing more local food wholesale. Employers will be able to connect with farms for employee wellness benefits.
With all of this activity, there’s a big opportunity to piece together the health and local agriculture picture.
Diane Conners, a senior policy specialist with the nonprofit Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, is coordinating the Farms, Food & Health Conference. Other host organizations are Munson Healthcare, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, MSU Extension and Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network. She can be reached at [email protected]