Ann Arbor farm stop hosts inaugural national farm stop conference

Ann Arbor's Argus Farm Stop will bring current and aspiring farm stop operators together at the inaugural National Farm Stop Conference on March 1-3 at Matthei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor. The conference aims to convene "operators of Farm Stop model local food stores, representatives from communities interested in building their local food systems, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and academics" to uplift current business owners and emphasize the importance of expanding food access in communities.

Argus co-founder Bill Brinkerhoff says the need for the conference is underscored by the recent release of the 2022 Census of Agriculture, which found that small- and medium-sized farms across the country are disappearing. He explains that farm stops help to bridge the gap between local produce farmers and potential customers by providing a year-round grocery store that sells local produce on consignment.

"Any community with a farmers market could benefit from a farm stop that is a companion to the market," Brinkerhoff says. "Our interest is to raise awareness."

Brinkerhoff says conference attendees will be able to learn from other farm stop operators on topics such as how to run a farm stop, understanding local policies, and finding funding. Notable speakers such as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and USDA Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffitt will also be in attendance.

"We are in awe of the participants," Brinkerhoff says. "We’re really excited to have these groups come together."

Longtime Argus partner Fair Food Network (FFN) is the leading sponsor for the conference. FFN is a national nonprofit and investor with the goal of increasing access to fresh and healthy food. Brinkerhoff explains that Argus has been working with FFN to offer the Double Up Food Bucks program to EBT shoppers since Argus' early days in 2014.

"FFN has helped us with food access since the beginning," Brinkerhoff says. "When we brought up the idea of a conference to CEO Kate Krauss, she felt like it aligned with their mission and how the nonprofit is focusing their energy."

Brinkerhoff hopes that the conference will not only allow farm stop operators to come together and learn from one another, but also that community members can learn how beneficial a farm stop can be both for local farmers and their communities at large. He also hopes that more state and national officials are able to see farm stops' successes in reducing food insecurity and keeping small- and medium-sized farms operational.

"This is one of the great solutions that doesn’t require perpetual grant funding," Brinkerhoff says. "Bringing together everyone under a conference will help accelerate awareness that this model exists, and bring it into consideration for communities looking to grow their local food systems."

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo by Doug Coombe.
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