Blog: Mike Score

Mike Score is an agricultural innovation counselor for Michigan State University. He is also a member of the MSU C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems.

Mike writes about why we need to pay more and better attention to Michigan's $60 billion food and agriculture economy.

Post No. 2

Recent reports reveal that 96% of U.S. consumers have high interest levels in consuming local food. Consumers increasingly care about where their food comes from and how it was produced following scares about lower-cost foodstuffs imported from China like melamine-tainted products, and botulism-contaminated chili.

Consumers are also becoming more aware of their carbon footprints. In conversations I've had with regional food distributors I've learned that one-half of current grocery store prices for fresh produce is accounted for by transportation costs associated with shipping fruit and vegetables from out of state. Consumers don't see the sense in tying up 50 percent of their food dollars in senseless transportation costs. Just think about the capital that could be freed up for new investment if we redeployed 25 to 50 percent of dollars spent on feeding Michigan residents.

If we were consuming all of our locally grown products in Michigan and still experiencing a shortfall it would make sense to continue importing goods from other states or countries. But Michigan Agricultural Statistics reports suggest that only 1% of farm products in southeast Michigan are sold directly to consumers. We are shipping most of our farm products out of state for processing, then importing them back in, blended with product from the global commodity system, under major brand labels.

Regional food retailers have been working hard with modest results to increase their offerings of local agricultural goods. Only 34 percent of farmers in southeast Michigan report satisfaction with marketing channels for moving their fruits and vegetables into the marketplace.

Consumers are demanding local products. Retailers are looking for local goods to put on their shelves. Farmers are struggling to find marketing channels that place their goods in regional stores. What is wrong with our food system? Why can't local leaders make local food systems work?