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10/23/2013 12:01:00 AM
Upcoming talk to focus on local food system
Jessica Evans
News Manager

For many folks, preparing dinner these days is as easy as picking up a couple of frozen entrees at the grocery store or perhaps from a drive thru window. Today's modern food system often involves highly packaged and processed food and produce that is shipped in from thousands of miles away. Many people are not aware where their food comes from, who prepared it and how.

This traditional food system is starting to change, especially in northern Michigan, and a local, community based system has been emerging for the last several years. Wendy Wieland of MSU Extension in Petoskey will give an inside look into the region's farm community, it's evolution and where it is headed at her upcoming lecture at North Central Michigan College, Understand Your Local Food System: Build Strong Food-Farm Communities on Thursday, October 24, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

"For most people, the idea of a community based food system is a new concept," Wieland said. "Our older generations might remember this kind of food system, prior to streamlining and commoditization. For many people, this traditional system works fairly well, but it has led to some serious challenges that are now finally being addressed."

According to Wieland, some of these challenges include health consequences brought on by the traditional food system. This, in turn, has caused many to take a step back and carefully consider where their food is coming from, and how it is grown, Wieland said.

"People have grave concerns about disease and health issues that are running rampant today and because of this, many are turning to their food as a way to improve their health," she said.

"The diet many of us have grown accustomed to in the past decades has not boded well with our health, and has actually caught up with us," she continued. "Today, we have much more processed foods in our diet, along with sugar, than we ever had before. This combined with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles has led to a healthcare crisis in our country."

Wieland noted that another possible reason more people are becoming interested in a community based food system is to improve their local economy. Food produced at a local level has a huge impact on the economy, as it keeps more dollars in the region, she said.

"People are coming to the realization that when we produce something here and add value to it locally, we are actually creating jobs that stay here," she said.

According to Wieland, the area's unique food culture and traditions are something that can be capitalized on, and already is, to some extent.

"We have a wonderful wine region that is just starting to get going," she explained. "Michigan is also emerging in the craft beer and hard cider industry, and as a result, we're seeing more farmers interested in growing hops and becoming suppliers."

Wieland also noted that the emergence of wineries and breweries contributes to tourism, which brings more people to the area, in turn, directly benefitting other local businesses. She stated that the area has some great resources for those interested in increasing the amount of local food grown and produced here.

"We have some tremendous things happening in this area," she said. "I think this is going to continue because the demand for these local foods is increasing. We have a choice several times a day how we spend our food dollars and by buying local, we are supporting this community based food system."

"By supporting local food, we can achieve some of the things we're missing in our traditional food system," Wieland continued. "It will benefit our health and also economically, which is a benefit to us all."

Understand Your Local Food System: Build Strong Food-Farm Communities will take place on Thursday, October 24, at 7 p.m. in the library conference center at North Central Michigan College. The event is free and open to the public. For more information about the event or other programs hosted by the college, go to http://www.ncmich.edu/ or call 231-348-6613 or 231-348-6705.

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