Local Food for Thought

Ann Arbor Chronicle - Mary Morgan - The day’s final speaker was Chris Bedford, president of the Center for Economic Security. He told the group that our country is in a crisis of over-consumption, of spirit and of trust. It’s imperative that we “re-localize” our economy, he said, especially in the areas of food, finance and energy. It’s all about economic renewal and community resilience – if we’re to survive, he said, we need to “trust each other, know each other, work with each other and love each other in our communities.”
 
Bedford described some initiatives in the Muskegon area aiming to do just that, with a major focus on getting local food into the school system. But the challenges are many, including a federal commodity program that subsidizes megafarms to produce food for schools, and liability exposure that would cripple small growers if they were sued over food contamination. School boards – and thus, the community – have power to influence decisions, Bedford said. Muskegon Heights schools, for example, contract with Chartwells (which also holds a contract for Ann Arbor schools). Bedford believes that Chartwells is “scared witless” about the local food movement.
 
Bedford said neither the federal nor state governments support local food initiatives, and noted that the industrial food system is endorsed by Jim Byrum, the powerful president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association and an ally of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Yet Bedford believes there’s a chance to change Michigan’s food policy, and that the 2010 elections will be crucial in that regard: “We need to at least bring up food policy in these elections.”
 
Someone in the audience asked Bedford how having a local currency might help develop a local food system. Bedford said it keeps money in the community, and also brands the community – he pointed people to the example of BerkShares, which is currency used in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. He held up a $10 BerkShares bill, with images of turnips on one side and on the other a picture of Robyn Van En, who started the country’s first community supported agriculture (CSA) project. [The Chronicle knows of only one group in the Ann Arbor area that has its own currency: The Dexter-Miller Community Co-op. If there are others, we'd be interested in hearing about it.]
 
Bedford is also a filmmaker, and is working on a new film about reinventing the local economy. Ann Arborite Jeff McCabe, who attended Thursday’s summit, is hosting a breakfast at his home on Feb. 15 to raise funds for the film.