Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Marquette Food Co-op Part II – Education and Outreach

I have so much great information from my visit with Natasha Lantz (Community Liaison) and Matt Gougeon (General Manager) at the Marquette Food Co-op that I had to split it into two blog posts. Click here for Part One. 

The co-op is democratically run with a board of directors elected by members. They have three main policies:
- Support local,
- Provide access to organic, local, and fair trade foods and other products, and
- Educate the community about food and food-related issues.

After a store tour, I chatted with Lantz and Gougeon about the education and outreach of the Marquette Food Co-op. Lantz grew up in Newaygo, MI on a hobby farm, later owning and operating her own farm. She got a degree in Social Work at Northern Michigan University and fell in love with the area. Growing up in Alpena, MI, Gougeon, moved to Marquette in early 2003 and served on the Co-op board of directors for 5 years before taking the General Manager position.

The co-op has extensive outreach and programming in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) supporting gardeners and agricultural businesses to help create the demand for healthy, local food.

One such project is the U.P. Food Exchange. “It’s a resource portal for all things local and agricultural in the U.P.,” said Lantz. “There are three food hubs; these are physical locations to aggregate and distribute from small to mid-sized farm operations to allow them access to the wholesale market,” she continued. Co-op personnel helped to start the Exchange and currently run the central section hub. Food items are brought to one spot for combining before going to large institutions. This is cutting edge work, because it helps small growers to gain access to fulfill the needs of large organizations (such as schools and hospitals). The products of several producers are combined to complete the large food order.

U.P. Food and Farm Directory, a comprehensive list of U.P. farmers markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), community gardens, and natural food stores is another ongoing project of the co-op. The guide is updated, printed, and distributed by the co-op annually.

When you visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, make a stop at the Marquette Food Co-op for produce, gifts, deli items, wildcrafted herbs, or just to say hello.

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