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One story I’m really liking in the May 2012 Traverse Magazine is called Local Foods All-Stars. Okay, full disclosure, I wrote said story, but that’s not why I like it. I like it because it held a surprise for me as I worked on it and saw it come to completion.
The story had its beginnings in a corner of Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, when I met a gentleman named JT “Chip” Hoagland for a beer. Chip is a careerlong food entrepreneur and he continues to do that in Northern Michigan as (among other ventures) an owner of Cherry Capital Foods, a company that gathers and distributes foods from small farms to commercial customers.
In talking with Chip I told him I’d been thinking of a story with a working title “Local Foods All-Stars” that would try to reveal that it takes people at many different levels of the food system to make the local foods movement a reality—not just growers and eaters. But I didn’t have much more than an idea at that point. Chip started taking notes immediately, asking me stuff and then writing down people’s names who would be ideal to include on the list. By the time I got home there was a Google doc shared with me that had Chip’s notes and suggestions. I followed up on the suggestions, most notably with Diane Connors, who heads up the local foods work at Michigan Land Use Institute.
Thinking back on my early notions of the local foods story, I guess I thought the idea of food and system would kind of drive the piece, and the people in the story would put a real face to the local foods thing.
But my surprise in putting the piece together was how the spirit of entrepreneurship ended up being the heart of the tale and gave it its energy. Certainly the other elements were there—a love of food and what it represents for health and life, a love of community and how local food can support that, and a chance to share brief insight into the lives of 11 Up North food people (Justin Rashid, American Spoon Food; Rob Sirrine, MSU Extension; Renee DeWindt, Frankfort-Elberta Schools; Evan Smith, Cherry Capital Foods; Wendy Wieland, Northern Lakes Economic Alliance; Mark Coe, Calvin Lutz Farms; Jim Schwantes & Judy Reinhardt, Sweeter Song Farm; Craig Schaaf, Golden Rule Farm; Myles Anton, Trattoria Stella; Diane Connors, Michigan Land Use Institute). I enjoyed all that. But I found the entrepreneurial spirit of the 11 in the story to be remarkably inspiring, and that is what really stays with me as I think of the piece.
Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit idea resonated with me so much because I live in Michigan, which is in so dire need of that spirit right now as it finally seriously confronts the need to diversify the economy. We need so many, many more economic pillars for our state to stand on than what we have now, and a strong local foods economy offers some promising possibilities.
During one of my local foods interviews, Wendy Wieland, an economic development specialist who focuses on food entrepreneurs, told me “entrepreneurs are endlessly optimistic, and I find that to be very inspiring.” I guess that same feeling transferred to me.
Oh yeah, Wendy said another amazing thing about local foods entrepreneurs during our interview. “Everything we can do to support them will translate and make a difference, because as ourselves, as a community, as an economy, we are what we eat on so many levels.”
So check that story out! It’s a good ‘un. I know you are going to enjoy meeting those 11 food entrepreneurs, and I am pretty certain it’s going to change the way you see what’s on your plate.
Be well.—Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine