In May 2019, the Michigan Farm to Institution Network (MFIN) Advisory Committee met at Gordon Food Service in Grand Rapids. In their meeting, members of the Advisory Committee conducted one-on-one interviews to learn about each other’s farm to institution journeys. The following comes from an interview with Garrett Ziegler from Michigan State University (MSU) Extension by Jenelle Jagmin from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Please tell me what kind of farm to institution work you do and how long have you done this work.
I have worked on farm to institution for over seven years in my role as a Community Food Systems Educator with MSU Extension. I have specifically focused on the farm to hospital space and have also contributed to the development of statewide farm to institution initiatives as a member of the MFIN Management Team and co-lead of the Tech-ed Subcommittee.
I have worked with MSU Extension for 6.5 years and started engaging in farm to institution work right away. I began working with hospitals and coordinating local tours. As part of the Tech-ed subcommittee, we also develop educational materials such as the featured foods sourcing guide.
Tell me where your local food journey began?
I first became interested in local food work while pursuing a master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism. A group project for one of my classes had a focus on local food system strategies and their impact on local business and tourism. I didn’t see this as a potential career path really until I applied for my current position with MSU Extension. I was looking for a job that would allow me to utilize my graduate degree and also provide a platform for continuing my learning on a subject, and local food was the perfect fit.
With the Master of Sustainable Tourism, I was working in Jackson Hole and studied local food as part of sustainable tourism. The MSU Extension job drew me in when I decided to stay in Michigan.
Can you describe your farm to institution project/work?
I have been an active member and co-leader of the Tech-Ed Subcommittee of MFIN since it started in the spring of 2014. The work of this subcommittee has focused on providing technical resources for farm to institution practitioners, primarily through the annual featured food promotions and on-farm tours. The featured food program of Cultivate Michigan worked to provide useable information on specific Michigan products, including local sourcing information, industry and nutrition facts and institutionally scaled recipes. While the specific promotions ended in 2019, we are still updating sourcing information and providing on-farm learning opportunities for the 24 products on an annual basis.
What is the impact of your farm to institution work?
There is a huge impact in providing resources to folks that are making decisions on institutional food service purchasing. By providing specific and updated sourcing information, we are able to provide a “one stop shop” for folks looking to shift to more local food purchasing. By highlighting specific products grown and raised in Michigan, we have also brought producers into MFIN and allowed them the space to share how they produce the products that institutions use every day, and hopefully close that gap between farm and institutional cafeteria.
What is most exciting to you about your farm to institution work?
I really think it comes down to the variety of people that I get to work with on a daily basis in this space. Everyone from farmers, food service staff and managers, large distributors, food hubs and consumers. Everyone has a stake and is involved in some way. I also appreciate the challenge that comes from work that is looking to reshape and challenge a status quo.
Can you share a story that illustrates why your farm to institution project is important?
In spring of 2019, I organized a tour of a local indoor greens growing facility in Caledonia, MI. One of the participants was from Senator Peters’ office and he had apparently really enjoyed the tour. I found this out through my District Director who was in attendance with the individual at another meeting the next day, where she sang the praises of the tour and the work of MSU Extension around local foods.
Do you have any tips or advice for someone who is just getting started with a similar project?
I have lots of advice for folks that are just getting started in this space, but the most important one is to keep your head up and your mind open and rely on those who have already cleared some of the path ahead. There are so many amazing and talented people working on farm to institution in Michigan who are willing to share their experiences and assist others who are just starting out.
How can others get involved or support this work?
I think the first thing you can do is engage with the existing network that has been at this for a number of years. The quarterly network meetings are a great place to get updates and hear about what is going on.
What is your favorite recipe using local foods?
Using organic asparagus from Rothbury MI, this shaved asparagus and goat cheese frittata recipe.