Lansing Cooks with Local-Source Food Fans

The apples for some pies travel hundreds, even thousands of miles before being sliced, spiced and baked into a pie. The rhubarb for Lansing City Market fan Diane Thompson’s fruit compote didn’t travel more than a few miles.

With her close connections to the City Market, Thompson knows all about fresh and how to get it. She’s also tied to a movement that promises to transform the way we eat, and how food gets to our table.

“We’re a group that’s passionate about local foods, supporting local farmers, and keeping our dollars in Lansing,” says Thompson, chair of the Friends of the City Market and member of the Lansing Localvores. “The way you eat can actually be a tool for improving our economy right here in Michigan.

Coming Home

Back in the spring of 2007, Thompson became part of a small group that had a desire to effect big change by tapping into a shared experience.

The Lansing Localvores surmised that larger issues like peak oil, global warming and maintaining livable communities were closely aligned with what we eat.

“It’s important to me to know where my food is grown and how it’s handled,” says Thompson. “By helping local farmers, we can keep more farms from going [by] the wayside of urban sprawl or development, and help our economy, too.”

Meeting in the basement of the Downtown Lansing Capital Area District Library, this assembly of nearly a dozen organizers began examining how to make Lansing a more sustainable community. One way, they concluded, was through eating food grown within a 100-mile radius of the city.

“Sustainability is doing things in a way that ensures future generations will have the resources they need to live comfortably,” says Cheryl Bartz, co-founder of the Lansing Localvores. “Our mission is to encourage people to eat locally-grown food to conserve energy, minimize climate change, build community and support the local economy.”

And while eating locally can help preserve things for future generations, farmers and vendors community-wide are seeing the effects right now as more people, restaurants and stores look to local sources.

“For me, local even trumps organic,” says Bartz. “Many of us are realizing that farmers might have trouble keeping up with the increasing demand for locally-produced foods.”

Taking Root

In the center of a state second only to California in terms of diverse agriculture, Lansing abounds with access to fresh, homegrown foods.

Produced by small, independent farmers, many fruits, grains, meats, dairy and vegetables are available through area farmer’s markets. Westwind Milling, Nodding Thistle Farm and Appleschram Orchards are among the area farmers selling at the Lansing City and Allen Street markets. And many supply fresh produce and other staples to area restaurants and co-ops.

“It’s like Alice’s Restaurant,” says Bartz of the variety of foods within an hour or two-hour drive. “You really can get anything you want.”

In Lansing, more than a dozen markets, stores and farms abound offer everything from asparagus to zucchini. Local consumers can find meat, milk, cheese, eggs, flour, pasta and beans, as well as canned goods, jams, honey, maple syrup and cooking oils from sources within 100 miles of downtown.

“And it tastes delicious,” Thompson says. “There’s no comparison to anything that comes thousands of miles—no matter how organic it is.”

The average food item, area Localvores say, has traveled about 1,500 miles before ending up on the table.

“That’s not going to taste anything like something that’s come just five or 15 miles,” says Thompson. “That’s the wonderful aspect of eating local.”

Local Michigan State University professor and national food-issue celeb, Michael Hamm, outlines other advantages by documenting the link between local agriculture and public health. In a paper published by the Journal of Hunger and Environment Nutrition, the C.S. Mott professor points up the disconnect among people, what they eat and the surrounding community.

“In the 20th century, we moved from a nation of farmers to an urbanized nation, with little individual connection to food production,” Hamm writes. “An ever-increasing percent of young people having no generational connection to farming.”

Community-based food systems, Hamm claims, can help link urban and rural communities, and prevent the continued destruction of farms and greenspace.

And by shifting to more fresh and wholesale markets for produce, nearly 2,000 new jobs could be added to state’s economy—simply by placing more capital into the hands of Michigan-based farmers.

Hamm’s reasoning resonates with area localvores.

“People come to local foods for different reasons,” says Bartz. “For me, I’m particularly concerned with conserving energy and minimizing climate change. The localvore movement has the potential to affect those things.”

Local Flavor

Colleen Davis is among Lansing businesspeople bringing local flavor to their customers.

A local product herself, the Lansing native and owner of the Gone Wired Cafe helped encourage residents to try eating local for a week.

“Everything we used was local,” says Davis of the pancake breakfast that launched the 2007 Lansing Localvore Challenge late last summer. “It was a lot of fun and a great way to raise awareness.”

More than 200 people attended the breakfast and pledged to eat only locally grown foods for a week, a day or a meal. The challenge was so successful that Davis hopes to revive it this fall.

In the meantime, she’s there to support the cause. About 25 percent of the ingredients for the foods prepared at Gone Wired Cafe come from local sources, including eggs, flour, salad greens, dairy and meats.

“It’s so important to support local farmers as much as we can,” says Davis, who regularly networks with the Allen Street and Lansing City Markets, various community gardens and Horrocks Farm Market.

“They’re our lifeline now and in the future as it becomes more expensive and difficult to ship foods by semis.”

Ann Kammerer lives in East Lansing. She has written about area businesses, non-profits and people making news for a variety of local and regional magazines. 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Lansing City Market vegetables

Diane Thompson, Friends of the City Market

Allen Street Market

Colleen Davis preparing food at Gone Wired Cafe

Michigan poultry at the City Market

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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