Blog: Emma Wendt

Moving from the west coast to the third coast is a major life change, one that Emma Wendt, entrepreneurial services connector at Ann Arbor SPARK, has handled with resourcefulness. Among many ideas, Emma writes on how Michigan winters make for good local food and networking, and how an ABC (Anything But a Car) philosophy builds a closer community.

How to Get Your Stomach Through a Michigan Winter

The avocados did it.  They were on sale for 89 cents each at my local food co-op, and were begging to be in my salad.  But they were from Mexico.  I bought them anyway.

I've never done a 100% 100-mile diet -- I like bananas and chocolate too much -- but I try to eat local whenever I can.  Pulling carrots from my family's garden was a familiar summer activity as a kid, but I didn't get diligent about choosing where my food comes from until I moved to San Francisco.

With a weekly community supported agriculture (CSA) veggie box delivered a few doors down; an enormous food co-op that clearly labels what's from California; a community that talks extensively about food justice; and a climate that pumps out strawberries in the summer, citrus in the winter, and everything in between; it's hard in not to buy ingredients grown in your proverbial backyard.  And my actual backyard did have an avocado tree. 

Why, though, was it so heartbreaking to me when I admitted this winter that I couldn't keep my mostly local diet?

Being intentional about where your food comes from matters.  For me, I want to strengthen my community and reduce the environmental impact of shipping ingredients to me. Some say that the type of food you eat matters more than where it comes from, or that a Londoner is better off eating lamb from New Zealand than from the UK.

Others want to improve their health, support Michigan's agricultural sector and specifically smaller farms, search for superior taste, and increase self-sufficiency.

Luckily, even with our long, dreary winters, Michiganders can still enjoy a plethora of local food year-round.  In Ann Arbor, Brines Farm offers a four-season CSA, or you can choose a frozen version from Locavorious.  Our Kerrytown Farmers Market runs year-round, where you can still grab a variety of root vegetables, hearty greens, apples, eggs, and sauerkraut.

Organizations like SELMA Cafe have been working hard to support our local food economy. All the profits from SELMA's amazing Friday morning breakfasts, where I've eaten, washed dishes, set tables, and made friends, go to a revolving loan fund for farmers to build hoop houses.  This gives us more fresh veggies even at this time of the year, and provides farmers much-needed additional income. And the Tilian Farm Development Center offers land to new, young farmers to help them start thriving, sustainable businesses. 

Some restaurants, like Silvio's Organic Pizza and Jolly Pumpkin showcase local ingredients, and Real Time Farms, an Ann Arbor startup, helps you learn about where those ingredients come from -- an easier and less obnoxious version of Portlandia's approach.

Some of the best ways to take advantage of Michigan's produce are to understand what's in season, and to store what you've gathered in the summer.  For help with this, you can turn to Preserving Traditions, or classes at the HourSchool.  Made too much, or looking for more variety?  Trade home-cooked meals through Real Good Food, a new startup based locally, already with over 150 members in Ann Arbor.

Even though I was a bit lax on my food selection this winter, I know I can improve next year. I'll be here early enough to can more produce (since we moved in in August, I only unpacked my kitchen in time for real pickles), and experience helps, too.  I now know that I can use celeriac instead of celery, and I need to get to the farmers market before 10:30 a.m. to find anything green.  I'm still going to cook with olive oil, grains, and some fruit that grows in far-off lands, but I can gradually change my eating habits to better represent Michigan year-round.

My original reason for eating local was environmental, but now I'm more motivated by building my food community.  Unlike in California, I've actually visited several of the farms I buy from, and many of the people from the organizations above are friends.

Have you tried to buy more local food?  Why does it matter to you?  What's been challenging, and what tips can you share?