Rhetoric has some value, but when working through difficult chronic issues I find it mostly annoying. Not wanting to ramble on about the need for pursuing economic growth through development of a more sustainable food system without actually pointing to the way forward, I will draw on recent research completed by the Michigan State University Product Center to identify specific business ventures that are well suited to fit within the regional economy of southeast Michigan.
Grain Milling: In order to succeed here we need urban people to develop a more sophisticated understanding of what comes out of fields planted to corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, and other regional grain crops. Oils, protein, gluten, starch, and other components derived from grain are used as inputs for thousands of common consumer products.
Food Ventures Targeting Regional Ethnic Populations: Major population groups have difficulty understanding how important it is to minority groups to gain access to food products that match up with traditional recipes, flavors, and textures. There is room in our regional marketplace for additional food processing firms catering to various ethnic groups.
Crop Diversification: Southeast Michigan currently only produces between 15 and 20 different vegetable, fruit, and nut crops. Some of the acreage we use for producing low-value commodities can be managed differently to produce higher-value produce for direct sale to consumers.
Food Distribution: The reason many institutional food services do not buy direct from regional farm businesses is the lack of an efficient clearing house for local farm goods.
Labor Management Services: Many farm businesses hire seasonal help. There are difficulties in recruiting workers and handling the paperwork associated with seasonal labor.
Insurance: Small farm businesses interested in selling through urban retail businesses have difficulty covering costs of required liability insurance. Insurance companies can expand business by offering more affordable group policies.
Notice that the business opportunities associated with the food system are not exclusively rural. Urban jobs and rural jobs would develop as we take steps to make our regional food systems more sustainable.