April 20, 2015
This past December the Michigan Food Policy Council was abolished through an executive order by Governor Rick Snyder. The alleged purpose of this move was to have the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) absorb the efforts of the Food Policy Council.  According to the Governor, the reorganization is supposed to increase the effectiveness of projects taken on by the Council , but in my opinion the re-org will not accomplish great efficiency. Instead, it will stifle opposing viewpoints.
Since 2005, the Council has been supporting the growth and diversification of the state’s food system by synthesizing local and regional goals. Its many successes include increasing the number of small farmers at local markets who are eligible to accept SNAP benefits; helping underserved community grocers access a tax incentive to offer healthier fresh options; and supporting the pilot of food mover projects that deliver fresh produce to neighborhood food deserts .
The Governor’s re-org seems to run counter to how I understand food policy councils build sustainable food systems. The allocation of the Council’s duties to MDARD reduces the number of people in positions of power to vocalize the many sides of Michigan’s food issues. It consolidates the authority to develop the vision of our future food system in a select few whose leadership is largely influenced by Big Ag constituents. And the elimination of the Council in effect tamps down any influence and innovation that might grow out of grassroots local efforts. The loss of these community bonds means a stronger influence for Big Food and weaker understanding of the resources and needs of local areas when designing policy goals at the state level.
Lansing, for example, has specific food system assets that are not necessarily seen in other areas of Michigan. The Greater Lansing Food Bank is ahead of the curve in its vision and mission to support the hungry not only with food, but also by providing the resources to grow food, and programs to support entrepreneur farming projects. The skills to grow food can be learned through a variety of education centers in Lansing and access to land on which to grow food is made more readily available due to the Land Bank program. This distinctive community capacity needs to be part of the equation in building policies to address poverty and hunger prevalent in some neighborhoods around the city, several of them with childhood poverty rates higher than 98.6% of other national neighborhoods .
There is plenty of work needed to close the gap between where Lansing is and where we hope it to be. Connecting these larger scale issues to Lansing’s exceptional array of strengths would put the city in a unique situation to truly address the needs it faces. But this will only be successful if the consolidated authority invested in MDARD can step back, align its overarching vision with individual community assets and stay committed to the lives affected daily by future policy and program implementation. Until I see the reorganization taking measures to root its goals with feedback from local agencies, I’ll remain cautious about the Council’s removal. We each need to demand more clarity about how our local food efforts will intersect with state initiatives it we want to work towards a secure and resilient food future.
Images: Colleen Synk.
This blogpost stems from an op-ed assignment in the Bloomberg School 2nd term course, Food Production, Public Health and the Environment.
 Snyder, R. (2014).Rescission of executive order 2005-13. (Executive order No. 2014-11). Lansing: State of Michigan Executive Office. Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/snyder/EO_2014-11_476488_7.pdf.
 Unknown. (2014). Michigan governor abolishes Council designed to support local food systems and agricultural diversity. Inquisitr. Retrieved from http://www.inquisitr.com/1677374/michigan-governor-abolishes-food-council/
 Lawler, E. (2014, December 12, 2014). Gov. Rick Snyder eliminates Michigan food policy council.Mlive, Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2014/12/gov_rick_snyder_eliminates_mic.html
 Neighborhood Scout. (2014). Lansing, MI (E kalamazoo st/ S pennsylvania ave). Retrieved from http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/mi/lansing/kalamazoo-st/#demographics