Opportunity knocks: A local food economy

By Olga Bonfiglio

Special to the Michigan Citizen

The local food movement has the potential to create jobs, develop small business entrepreneurships and keep precious dollars in the community.

“As manufacturing jobs decrease, the relative value of activities in the community’s food sector increases,” says Dr. Kami Pothukuchi, Wayne State University professor of urban planning.

This is especially good news for Michigan, whose economic engine has been dependent on manufacturing, which pulls in $68.4 billion annually compared to agriculture’s $63.7 billion, the state’s second largest industry.

The costs of today’s factory food system outweigh its benefits. An energy-intensive monoculture, it uses huge amounts of water and chemicals for herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. Tons of animal waste products also accumulate and pollute land, water and air. Most foods travel an average 1,300 miles. Fruits and vegetables, in transit for seven-14 days, lose both freshness and taste.

Our food system should revolve around small, polycultural farms that practice sustainable agriculture, preserve regional biodiversity and help build local economies. This is already happening in many ways.

Michigan residents spend $26 billion on food with only 10 percent coming from the state’s farmers, according to a 2001 MLUI study.

“Michigan has the second most diverse agriculture in the United States [with 150 crops]. We could add another $2.58 billion to the state’s economy if we increased production of local food by another 10 percent,” says Pothukuchi.

Olga Bonfiglio is a professor at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, MI.

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