Published 1 month ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities
Centered around a rural region of lower Michigan, ‘Shared Abundance’ highlights the power of stakeholder collaboration in building more resilient communities.
In a distinctive area of northwest lower Michigan — towards the top of the
state’s famous “glove” layout — a group of farmers, artisans, activists and
local officials have created a small but bustling example of a
business-sustainable, self-serving food economy.
“This little region really appreciates food on the whole,” local farmer David
Coveyou, whose family farm and lineage date
back more than 140 years in the area, told Sustainable Brands® (SB).
Coveyou’s story is one of many examples within Shared Abundance: Lessons in building community around locally grown food — a new book published by
Michigan-based nonprofit Groundwork Center for Resilient
Communities that focuses on ground-level
innovation in food, economy and the environment.
Part story-filled coffee-table book and part local-food-economy strategy manual,
the 190-page spread is a self-described “playbook” for other rural communities
looking to build a more self-sustaining agricultural model that supports
everyone along the way, while restoring the environment and local ties.
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“We thought our region was small enough that we could tell this story in a way
not wrapped up into a larger-city economy,” Jeff
communications director and editor/producer of the book, told SB. “It’s kind of a
terrarium in a way.”
If nothing else, the book is an inspiring look at how the various stakeholders
within a rural area can come together to create a sustainable, resilient culture
that would be the envy of any community looking to create a better way of life
for its residents.
It’s not a coincidence that this part of the country is able to showcase such a
While across the US, there’s been a worrying
trend in recent
years of farmers aging out of farmwork and not enough young farmers in line to
replace them (according to the most recent USDA
only 9 percent of farmers nationally are under 35); Shared Abundance notes
in a 10-county area surrounding Grand Traverse County, there has been a 235 percent
increase in farmers under the age of 35 — mainly focused on agricultural
entrepreneurship — showing that southern Michigan is primed for an agricultural
renaissance of sorts.
“There’s an interest in this on the whole,” Coveyou says.
The book details no less than a dozen examples of on-the-ground
agricultural/commercial partnerships broken down into areas such as “marketing &
connecting,” “building economy” and “infrastructure.” Each section concludes
with a running list of potential action items.
Perhaps the most notable example is the development of a
“farm-to-school” program, where Coveyou worked with a local school district to
slowly transition the district’s food purchasing from big companies to
hyper-local outlets — including Coveyou’s family farm and other places with a
considerably more nutritious standard of food. Today, the school district
purchases more than 90 percent of its produce from local suppliers.
“It was all about persistence in wanting to bring about change in our food
system, and using that as a message,” he says.
What’s even more interesting than the work itself is where it leads. Keeping
with the farm to school example, it’s literally changing how students think
about food. The author details multiple examples
where kids now reach for a healthy snack or lunch option — such as kale off the
cafeteria line — due to the time spent getting to know locally grown options and
why they can be better compared to other foods.
Seven districts in three Michigan counties tested a similar idea in a local
pilot project, which inspired legislators to pass the state’s lauded 10 Cents a
Meal for Michigan’s Kids &
grant initiative that incentivizes schools to purchase state-grown produce — an unfortunately revolutionary concept in a country that heavily subsidizes large, factory and monoculture farming.
The examples include insights into how everyone from educators and immigrants to
co-op facilitators and even legislative officials stand to benefit from the
positive impacts of this relatively small, local-food economy.
At times the book feels too rosy — given the ultimately small footprint within
this specific portion of this specific state, the results found in Grand
Traverse likely aren’t easily translatable to other states, especially those
with tougher agricultural climates. These types of relationships and partnerships can take years to build;
and buy-in from all of the necessary stakeholders isn’t guaranteed.
When asked about this, Smith says he thinks that many communities could use the
blueprint laid out within these pages.
“When you see the people looking back at you from those pages, they’re just
everyday people and everyday people are everywhere,” he says.
And the work to replicate Grand Traverse’s success is already underway: As Smith
recently told Traverse City’s The Ticker,
late last year Groundwork received a nearly-$900,000 grant from the USDA to
expand its work in building local-food economies to 16 counties along the Lake
Michigan coast. Over the next few years, the nonprofit will work with “36
different stakeholder partners” — including food producers, distributors,
processors, schools and food pantries — to apply the strategies that worked in
Grand Traverse to build similar food-economy networks, marketing systems,
distribution channels and infrastructure on a greater scale.
Published Oct 25, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Geoff is a freelance journalist and copywriter focused on making the world a better place through compelling copy. He covers everything from apparel to travel while helping brands worldwide craft their messaging. In addition to Sustainable Brands, he's currently a contributor at Penta, AskMen.com, Field Mag and many others. You can check out more of his work at geoffnudelman.com.