Michigan Governor Abolishes Council Designed To Support Local Food Systems And Agricultural Diversity

Dawn Papple

Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder, through executive order, abolished a council established to support local food systems and agricultural diversity. The Michigan Food Policy Council was created in 2005 under Governor Jennifer Granholm. Granholm hoped the Council would help Michiganders cultivate a healthy, safe food supply, especially for low-income and urban households.

The goal of the Council, according to the CDC, was to bring together a "diverse group of stakeholders" in order to improve Michigan's food environment. The Council established the Local Food Policy Taskforce, which has included representatives from tribal, urban farming, food pantry, co-op, and organic organizations.

According to MLIVE's Emily Lawler, Snyder decided that the duties of the former Michigan Food Policy Council would be absorbed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Snyder feels turning duties of the Council over to the department will increase the overall effectiveness of developing a healthy and safe food supply for Michigan residents.

"I appreciate the council's work and am confident that this reorganization will build on its accomplishments to further protect and strengthen our state," Snyder said while explaining the purpose of the executive order abolishing the Michigan Food Policy Council.

Jennifer Holton of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said that Synder's executive order would be a good thing for Michigan.

"There's a lot of local things that really weren't going on when it was created in 2005," Holton explained. It was created in the same manner is was abolished; Executive order.

Over the years, the Council has implemented positive changes in Michigan as admitted even by Snyder. The Michigan Food Policy Council helped foster the growth of the Michigan Neighborhood Food Movers Pilot Project. In Detroit, the Council identified entrepreneurs to deliver fresh produce through a local delivery truck. The abolished Council also worked extensively with the Michigan Farmer's Market Association to increase the number of small farmers at local market who were able to accept Michigan's SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits are the food assistance benefits that replaced food stamps. This move helped bring fresh local produce to impoverished families and helped support local farmers.

The Council also, in collaboration with Michigan's Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan program, assisted grocers in underserved communities of the state utilize a new tax incentive program that allowed local grocery stores to offer fresh produce, meat and dairy in areas where local grocers were primarily offering packaged, processed, and less perishable foods. The Council also recommended that lawmakers initiate legislation to support farm-to-school initiatives. The now abolished Council has worked with Michigan State University Extension to "sustain emerging and existing local councils throughout Michigan," according to the Extension's food policy webpage.

Last year's policy recommendations by the Council included increasing the farmers market sector, helping small farms gain their food safety certification, and supporting a statewide Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) "to provide access to financial capital for job creation in the local food system," according to the Council's literature.

Some local food advocates aren't so sure they want to put all their Michigan cherries in one basket though. The Michigan Small Farm Council president admitted on the Michigan Small Farm Council's Facebook page that she's not entirely sure why Snyder decided to abolish the Council. Many small farm supporters in Michigan are leery of Snyder's decision and have adopted an overall consensus of mistrust towards the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development after a year of struggles between the Department over changes to the farming policies in the state. Earlier this year, the changes to policies restricted Michigan small farmer's "Right to Farm."

At the time of the policy changes, Gail Philburn of the Michigan Sierra Club told Michigan Live, the new changes "effectively remove Right to Farm Act protection for many urban and suburban backyard farmers raising small numbers of animals."

Holton explained that since the Council was established in 2005, there has been an increased interest in local food. Holton says that the Department has a nutritionist that will work with local groups on food issues, but small and urban farming supporters aren't certain that Snyder's executive order will benefit their cause, according to social media reports.

With all the news about Michigan's food and farming policies, do you think that abolishing the Michigan Food Policy Council and turning over responsibility to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was a positive or negative move for Michigan residents?

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