*This column originally appeared in the March 1, 2014, edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle
“Eating’s not a bad way to get to know a place.”
—Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma.
When the snow melts (and yes it will all go away one of these days,) farmers in northwest Michigan will be in their fields sowing the crops that many of us will eventually buy.
But unless you have a personal relationship with a farmer, or regularly visit a farmers market, it’s unlikely you have a ready source for local food to put on your family’s dinner table.
Food from northwest Michigan farmers and value-added producers is available directly from farmers, in grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands, restaurants, institutional cafeterias, and through mail-order businesses around the region. Taste the Local Difference (TLD), the local food initiative managed by the Michigan Land Use Institute, has been working for more than a decade to connect consumers with the people who sell local food. It’s our stated goal that “by 2020, the region’s food and farming systems are more resilient and provide at least 20 percent of our region’s food.”
Taste the Local Difference is about to publish its 10th annual guide to northwest Michigan food and farms in May. Back in 2004, we put together the first of our booklets that listed farms, restaurants, retailers, and others who showed a commitment to local food. Last year we moved from the booklet format to a series of six maps that cover our region.
Our food and farming guide is available in print, on our website, and on our smartphone apps. But TLD doesn’t stop there. You should also be looking for TLD’s orange labels in select grocery stores over the coming months. Our first venture is a partnership with Tom’s Food Stores. They’re helping us test our branding and marketing model so we can make better-informed decisions moving forward. The idea is that the new TLD brand will help you tell local products from others on a store’s shelves. So as you stop into Tom’s Food Markets around the region, be on the lookout for the fifty or so local products we’re featuring. They can be easily identified by the TLD logo beneath the shelf.
Listing in the TLD Food & Farm Guide is free of charge at the basic level. Additional marketing services are also available at reasonable rates. In 2014, we’re looking to expand our listing of farmers, food producers, retailers, restaurants, breweries, wineries, and other local food businesses. If you have a local food business, or know someone who does, it’s easy to take advantage of TLD’s decade of experience in selling more northwest Michigan food. Make sure you get listed by contacting us at [email protected], or by going to the website, www.localdifference.org.
Taking a small liberty with Michael Pollan’s quote, there’s simply no better way to get to know northwest Michigan than by eating its food. Taste the Local Difference wants to be your guide for finding that food—or, as we like to say “good food, miles better.”
Bill Palladino is senior policy specialist with the Michigan Land Use Institute.