By Colleen Matts, Farm to Institution Specialist at MSU CRFS and MFIN Co-Lead
On Thursday, February 18, 2016, the White House Rural Council hosted a USDA Market Summit titled “Tomorrow’s Table.” A welcome by USDA Secretary Vilsack kicked off the day’s agenda that included food supply chain panel discussions on innovative practices and perspectives from farms, businesses, and buyers. Michigan’s very own Evan Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Cherry Capital Foods and former MFIN Advisory Committee member, was honored to serve on the panel focusing on supply chain business perspectives. Just being invited to the White House was “pretty humbling,” said Evan, and a “pat on the back for all of us” engaged in food systems work across the state. Food supply chain innovators like Evan help put Michigan on the map!
The purpose of this Summit was to examine supply chain practices and make more connections, while looking toward future opportunities in American agriculture. According to Evan, the USDA was seeking to learn more and first-hand about what is already happening in the food supply chain, ensure that existing USDA programs are being well-utilized, and understand what new programs could be developed to better meet current and future needs. Evan found it refreshing to see how interested, engaged, and knowledgeable USDA staff members were in food supply chain issues, including moving more local foods to meet demand. As Cherry Capital Foods focuses solely on distribution of Michigan foods, Evan said “it gives you hope that if there are that many smart people thinking about this question that we might actually solve it.”
While all attendees undoubtedly learned more about the state of the food supply chain through this day-long event, invited panelists also had the opportunity to make connections with other innovative practitioners that may result in lasting relationships or even business partnerships. “It’s like being a farmer,” Evan reflected. “We just seeded that field, and we’re going to have to wait and see what comes up. If not this year, we’ll turn it under and wait to see if we have better soil next year.” In any case, it’s good to know that the USDA is asking questions, listening, learning and looking toward the future to support and serve agriculture in Michigan and across the country.