Food Forward MI: Farm to Institution: A Supply Chain Opportunity (Part 2)


This is part two of a two part series. To read part one, click here.

Regional economic partnership can build a local, healthy food supply chain


“The challenge in expanding the local food systems is to match the cost and convenience of customary distributors.”


cherries-1268235_1920Across Michigan through partnership support from philanthropic, health, academic, government, business and nonprofit organizations, consumer education initiatives and new market development is helping drive demand. Saginaw Mayor Dennis Browning says, “More people are getting interested in local healthy foods and farm-to-table.” He notes this has been a major part of the success of new restaurants downtown and on the city’s west side. Researching how local Saginaw institutions make such local food purchasing decisions, Dayne Walling, Manager of 21st Century Performance notes, “The challenge in expanding the local food system is to match the cost and convenience of customary distributors.”

While developing a cost-effective local regional food supply chain challenges communities across Michigan, some municipalities are capitalizing on this problem as means for development. In Saginaw, new SVRC Industries food hub is working with the non-profit Downtown Saginaw Farmers’ Market, quasi-governmental Downtown Development Authority and statewide business Cherry Capital Foods (CCF) on employment, logistics, marketing, storage, outreach and education. Through this partnership, CCF will assist with the business and trucking operations while SVRC employees help CCF expand their local food supply nodes from the Upper, Central and Southeast Michigan out to the Thumb. The Farmers’ Market will be housed on the first level of this new development and help attract foot traffic, beautify the riverfront and act as a vendor host for many area businesses. Joint community outreach and education activities as well as fun for all ages will be available.

chef-1245676_1920In Tuscola county, economic developers are partnering with Mid-Michigan Restaurant Consultants, Tuscola Food Hub, East Central Planning Commission, Eastern Michigan Council of Governments, the Caro Farmers Market and Incubator Kitchen as well as the Small Business Development Center to develop a pilot for improved community food access and economic well-being. With additional support from the Thumb Area Tourism Council, Intermediate School District and Cass City Village Council and Chamber, this collaborative body is developing a five year vision with goals of: increasing access to healthy foods grown by local farmers; employing local talent (with particular emphasis on logistics), and; kick-starting entrepreneurship by working across traditionally silo’d organizations. Supply and value chain creation lie at the crux of this new partnership’s success.

“We are striving to build the essential gateway to greater community food access by partnering with our school districts, community organizations, Michigan Works, small to medium sized food entrepreneurs and food producers! We are a food desert in one of the lushest regions in the United States, and the highest organic producing area in Michigan. We have an opportunity to keep our kids here through this employment opportunity as well as feed our community. We achieve this by becoming the nonprofit that oversees this food aggregation/distribution function and making it a community highlight. This is why we’ve created the Greater Thumb Agri-business Center.” Vicky Sherry, President Greater Thumb Agri-business Corporation, Communications Director, Tuscola County EDC.

Going mainstream by paving the way to community health


“Across Michigan as communities have worked together to test such ideas, efforts are beginning to bear fruit.”


For those community collaboratives desiring to build a sustainable partnership or entity that provides such a sense of place, avenues for business logistics and expansion, health and well-being: market assessment is the first step. Gauging regional business desire for locally sourced foods and producer capacity is possible with the help of resources such as Michigan State University Extension and local farm market masters to understand who is buying, what and how much from whom. Whether urban or rural, opportunity exists to further connect suppliers with purchasers and the general public through hosting inclusive events such as community workshops, roundtable dialogues or “Meet the Buyers” events.

farmers-local-market-1547315_1920As business must first vision and then scale their goals, so too must community. Taking a note from the pages of supply chain development – strategy that creates a horizontal process to guide the flow of product across enterprise–communities at a macro level may also create partnerships to lead process for cross-sector place-making strategy, food access and jobs creation. At the micro level, these partnerships can also build the foundation from which to staff, market and facilitate the aggregation and distribution of local food to consumers. Across Michigan as communities have worked together to test such ideas, efforts are beginning to bear fruit.  By facilitating access to healthy, locally made food products, we also facilitate reduction of our carbon footprint and spur economic and public health. In the long run it may just be the same supply chain that carries local to mainstream also paves the way for community development to well-being.

For more information about supply chain strategy as a community well-being tool, please contact Mary ZumBrunnen, founder of One-Community Consulting at or connect with her on Twitter @OneCommCon. For more information about healthy food access initiatives, please contact Jessica AcMoody, CEDAM senior policy specialist at

We hoped you’ve enjoyed the Food Forward Michigan blog series. This is our final post in the series.


Glasses2About the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at