By Megan McManus and Zaire Parrotte, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, with additions by Garrett Ziegler, MSU Extension
May 4, 2022
After a three-year hiatus, Cultivate Michigan Marketplace events have returned. These events provide opportunities for local and regional food suppliers, including farmers, and institutional food service buyers of all scales to network and connect around local food. The first Marketplace of 2022 was held on April 11th in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nearly 50 people attended, representing 10 institutions, 9 food businesses and 8 farms from 10 counties across the West Michigan region.
Cultivate Michigan Marketplace events are unique, in part, because they focus on meeting the needs of institutional food service buyers. This event had a special emphasis on 10 Cents a Meal grantees. Half of all the buyers in attendance represented schools and early care and education (ECE) centers that participate in the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms.
This state-funded program matches what schools and centers spend on Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes with grants of up to 10 cents per meal. Its goals are to help improve daily nutrition and eating habits for Michigan children and invest in Michigan’s agriculture and local food economy. The statewide program has grown to include over 250 grantees this school year (2021-2022) including public and non-public schools, residential childcare institutions, and ECE centers. Growing participation in 10 Cents a Meal means that farmers and food suppliers have a greater opportunity than ever to sell local foods to these buyers.
Other buyers in attendance at the Marketplace event represented food resource nonprofits, a food bank, a regional food distributor, and a farmers market. All of the buyers who provided feedback agreed that they learned something new about options for purchasing local foods and that they made new purchasing connections that they did not have before the event. The most important thing one buyer learned that they could use in their work was “networking - the ability to reach out to local farmers.”
Farmers comprised half of all food suppliers in attendance. From six counties, their products ranged from fresh fruits and vegetables to meat and eggs. Food hubs, processors, and small food businesses also attended. All suppliers but one agreed that they planned to contact at least one food buyer following the event, including 10 Cents a Meal grantees. One farmer remarked, “This event is so well-organized!”
The Grand Rapids event was just the first in a series of regional events set to continue in the fall of 2022 through spring 2023. Stay tuned for more information about a marketplace coming to a region near you!
This event was supported by the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Farm to Institution Network, and local hosts from MSU Extension, the City of Holland, and the West Michigan Growers Group. This series of Marketplace events are made possible through a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Specialty Crop Block Grant and generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To learn more about the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, visit mifarmtoinstitution.org. To join Cultivate Michigan, institutional food service buyers can visit cultivatemichigan.org.