The Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network began in 2016 awarding mini-grants — small amounts of seed money for innovative, collaborative projects to enhance our local food system.
With support from Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, the network generated $4,000 from Networks Northwest to go toward the mini-grants. This amount was generously matched by Rotary Charities of Traverse City. The $8,000 then was distributed in varying amounts to eight projects that involved more than 30 different organizations. In total, leveraged resources were worth far more than the original seed money.
Eligible projects involved the participation of three or more partner organizations, focused on direct community impact and related to network task force areas: food access, agribusiness generation, farm to institution, farmland resources and local food sales.
The scope of the projects funded was broad, and a comprehensive report with details on each of them can be found on the network's website, www.foodandfarmingnetwork.org. Here is a short description of each project:
— Traverse City DDA provided culinary demos from the Grow Benzie food truck at the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market.
— Good Neighbors Food Pantry regularly provided local produce to 49 families through community supported agriculture (CSA) with Blackbird Gardens and a church garden space.
— Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology turned food waste from Short's Brewing Company into compost in partnership with Bay Area Recycling for Charities.
— YMCA Hayo-Went-Ha took their summer campers on farm field trips and incorporated local produce into their dining hall meals.
— Good Samaritan Family Services worked with Providence Farms to provide local produce to 100 families throughout the summer.
— Northwest Michigan Health Services implemented a "Fresh Food Prescription" program with Grow Benzie farmers market for their patients to proactively address health issues.
— Leelanau Conservancy is developing a web platform to support farmland succession planning and agricultural job opportunities.
— The food access task force coordinated more than 10 organizations such as Food Rescue and the Northwest Food Coalition to create an educational "Healthful Food For All" booklet.
The network surveyed the mini-grant recipients and found that 75 percent made at least one new connection as a result of this process and 100 percent plan on continuing to work with them. These new connections added value by creating new ideas and exchanging information, sharing tools and other resources — and providing inspiration.
This is the kind of collaboration that makes the network tick.
The Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network coordinates efforts to strengthen our agricultural spirit and economy. As a network, our strength is in making and amplifying connections. Our diverse set of partner organizations are doing the work: we simply facilitate the synergies between them with regular meetings, engaging events and resource and information sharing.
Our food and farming community is all the more vibrant because of the work encouraged by the mini-grants. We are excited to replicate this program in future years, and want to thank everyone who helped make it a success! Please visit foodandfarmingnetwork.org to access the full 2016 Mini-Grant Report.
Madeline Baroli is the current VISTA service member serving the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan. Contact her or learn more about this project at www.foodandfarmingnetwork.org.