Cultivate Michigan is a campaign of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network (MFIN) that seeks to help institutions reach the Good Food Charter goal of sourcing 20% Michigan foods by 2020. Cultivate Michigan tracks local food purchases through surveys and reports on progress toward this Charter goal. In addition, Cultivate Michigan provides member institutions with resources and guides that assist with local food purchasing, recipes, marketing, promotion, staff training and logistics. Recently, MFIN released the Cultivate Michigan 2017 Data Brief to report on Michigan food and featured food spending occurring through the campaign and to discuss strategies for moving forward.
The campaign is now in its fifth year, and 2020 is fast approaching. Since 2014, 65 institutions and 7 other organizations or businesses have become Cultivate Michigan members. Members receive information and materials that make it easier to find, buy, prepare, and promote seasonal featured foods. In turn, members are asked to track local and total food purchases and to report this data through an online dashboard.
Although the campaign has garnered a number of memberships, it has become clear that data collection is a significant challenge to the campaign. Since 2016, seven institutions have reported purchasing information through a quarterly survey. Four of these institutions completed at least three of four quarterly surveys in 2016 and two of these institutions completed at least three of four quarterly surveys in 2017. Based upon survey submissions, these institutions have achieved between 5 and 15 percent spending on Michigan foods for the years of 2016 and 2017. There appear to be at least two factors making purchasing data difficult to report. First, food product sourcing information is not always available or easily retrieved from distributors. Second, tracking takes time and food service directors are busy so reporting is often not completed.
While data collection has been a challenge to demonstrating the success of the campaign, there is reason for optimism. When looking at reporting from all institutions across all years (2014-2017), spending on Michigan products accounts for 14% of total food spending reported during this time. Additionally, some “easy wins” in terms of reporting are available through some of Cultivate Michigan’s featured foods – particularly milk and apples, of which 97 and 58 percent respectively, were sourced from Michigan. If more Michigan institutions purchase and report on just these foods, they could likely see significant progress toward the 20% goal.
As the Cultivate Michigan campaign moves forward, MFIN will continue to tell the story of institutions leading this effort and their local food system partners. This fall, MFIN will recognize its outstanding Cultivate Michigan members that have demonstrated a commitment to sourcing and tracking Michigan grown and produced foods. An awards ceremony at the Michigan Good Food Summit in East Lansing, MI in October 2018 will honor institutions that have achieved purchasing 5, 10, and 15 percent of their food service products from Michigan sources, with quarterly survey data to show it. We expect that these awards will recognize the value of data collection to this statewide effort and that they will inspire more institutions to track their local food purchases.
While regular, quarterly data collection for each year is the goal for Cultivate Michigan members, each survey submitted, even for just one quarter, contributes to telling the statewide story. Institutions that join become part of a broader network that is aiming for increased access to healthy, local foods and more robust agricultural economies and communities. These efforts can be shared with stakeholders and community members who can bolster efforts reciprocally. Directed efforts can help set priorities and goals for food service staff, and reports can contribute valuable information for researchers and policymakers. Cultivate Michigan and the MFIN staff and leadership are excited to support these institutions and the efforts of all in creating a healthy, green, fair and affordable food system in Michigan that is accessible to all people.