Also prescient, the Groundwork team saw that for a local food movement to thrive, a key piece of system infrastructure was needed: marketing services for local food producers. Such an innovation would serve farmers and small food entrepreneurs, who were expert at growing and creating great food but weren’t visible to buyers like grocery stores, hospitals, schools, and everyday consumers, explains Diane Conners, who was involved in TLD in the early days and today is senior policy specialist at Groundwork. “Remember,” Conners says, “in 2000 you could probably count on one hand the restaurants that touted locally grown radishes or beef on their menu, and there wasn’t a school anywhere that was purchasing from a local farmer.”
Groundwork created what was essentially a marketing agency and named it Taste the Local Difference. The first project, launched in 2004, was straightforward and useful, a directory of farmers that showed what they grew and where they were located. “We created a master list of farmers and I called every single one in our original five-county area,” recalls Conners.
Over the years, TLD services expanded to include both hardcopy and online directories of farmers and producers, marketing consultation, market tests, surveys, brand development, brand awareness, and directly connecting producers to markets. Many people within the northern Michigan food and farming scene credit TLD for being central to creating one of the strongest, most vibrant local food economies in the nation, despite the area’s small year-round population.