MarketMaker Connects the Hungry in Michigan to Much Needed Produce

Event date: 2011-10-05

MarketMaker Connects The Hungry in Michigan To Much Needed Produce

By Liz Billings

MSU Product Center

Imagine growing up without ever tasting the first asparagus of the spring, the tangy sweetness of fresh cherries in the summer or the crispy, sweet crunch of an apple on a fall afternoon. Imagine growing up never knowing what real, fresh food tastes like. Imagine the consequences that subsistence nutrition has on the body and mind.

But dont imagine that you are in a third world country. Instead, realize that the struggle against daily hunger is the reality for at least 1.7 million of Michigans 9.9 million residents, according to Toril Fisher, Director of Programs & Member Services for the Food Bank Council of Michigan (FBCM). Additionally, 2 million Michigan residents participate in SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and an additional 1.5 million are eligible. Thats why Ms. Fisher is using MarketMaker to reduce the prevalence of hunger in Michigan.

The problem is not simply that half of the babies and over one-third of the general population are eligible for food assistance. The problem, according to Ms. Fisher, is that the SNAP diet for those on assistance is essentially a peanut butter and jelly diet that doesnt provide enough funds to purchase any fresh fruits and vegetables and often doesnt even provide enough cheap processed foods to last through the end of the month, which frequently results in hunger forMichigans residents.

Thats where the food pantries ofMichigancome in. They act as a last safety net for people experiencing hunger. Over 1,000,000 people obtained food from the food pantries and the Emergency Food Network last year inMichigan. And for most of them, the only fresh produce that they ever eat comes from the Food Bank Council which services over 3500 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens in the state.

TheMichiganagricultural community is like none other, said Ms. Fisher. They really feel a sense of community and have a willingness to help that is unmatched. When they have excess produce or produce that has slight cosmetic blemishes, they call the FBCM and donate - over 6,000,000 pounds of produce last year. The states Michigan Agricultural Surplus System (MASS) program reimburses them for the cost of harvesting and transportation, but not for the produce that is donated.

However, it is vitally important that people have a consistent supply of essential foods, particularly fruits and vegetables as they are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. So with FBCM member food banks experiencing record numbers in food distribution, Ms. Fisher met with Tom Kalchik of theMichiganStateUniversityProductCenter, who introduced her to MarketMakers capabilities. Ms. Fisher began using MarketMaker to identify farms within 50 miles of its member food banks warehouses and proactively contracted with several of them to provide over 600,000 pounds of produce through the Michigan Farm To Food Bank pilot program.

MarketMaker enabled Ms. Fisher to easily achieve her goal of identifying regional farms that could provide member food banks with specific types of fresh, whole produce with a minimal ecological impact. The program worked so well that Ms. Fisher is using MarketMaker again this year to expand the number of participating farms by 50% and her ultimate goal is to have every member food bank have at least one farm under contract to provide fresh produce.

There was a time when hunger was not considered a normal part of life in this country. If you read the words of the song America the Beautiful as it talks about amber waves of grain and fruited plains, there is a sense of abundance and optimism that goes hand in hand with having enough to eat. MarketMaker is playing a key role in ensuring that all of the people of Michigan get to experience the benefits of real, fresh wholesome local foods and restoring the optimism that is so vital to the resurgence of the state.

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