Skip to main content

Washtenaw Food Policy Council: Growing the Local Food System

Washtenaw Food Policy Council: Growing the Local Food System

Program: Dow Sustainability Fellows Program
Program details » | All Dow Sustainability Fellows Program projects »

Washtenaw Food Policy Council: Growing the Local Food System

(Dow Fellows Program 2015)

Demand for “local foods” is a growing trend across the United States (U.S.). Since the early twentieth century, U.S. farms have undergone increasing industrialization, consolidation, and specialization. In the wake of these trends, diverse stakeholders aim to strengthen local food systems by creating smaller operations, increasing food diversity, and improving social connections to producers. Proponents believe a strong local food system can increase food security, improve the nutritional quality of crops, mitigate the environmental impacts of globalized food production, and expand local economic development. Existing farmers are increasingly embracing direct-to-consumer mechanisms to remove middlemen and increase profit margins (Diamond & Soto, 2009; Martinez et al., 2010).

These trends are evident in many large and small communities across the country, no less so in a 722 square mile county in Southeastern Michigan best known nationally as the home to the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. It is in Washtenaw County that the following research was conducted to generate substantive recommendations to support the growth of small to medium size farms in the county. Though there is no doubt that many of our findings are applicable at a larger scale, this effort remains at heart a place-based study.

The remainder of the report focuses first on understanding larger trends in local food, and why it is relevant for those interested in public health, environmental and economic issues. Next, the report shifts sight to research methods and partners. Third, the report contextualizes the current state of food production and farmers in Washtenaw County. Finally, key findings are presented and followed by specific actionable recommendations stemming from those findings.