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Charting a fairer course: the Michigan Good Food Charter’s 2022 Update

The Michigan Good Food Charter - first published in 2010 - has been updated with new goals, strategies, and activities for the next decade.

Charting a fairer course: the Michigan Good Food Charter’s 2022 Update

The development of the Michigan Good Food Charter has been a collaborative effort led by Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, with dozens of active partners across the state.   I’m reading the 2022 Charter, and hope you will too. Here are some of my takes.

What is the Charter for?

The Michigan Good Food Charter is not a policy document, nor is it a program or prescription for fixing the food system. It is a guiding framework for organizations of all kinds to find their place in a collective movement, so that individual actions can sum up into directed movements.

According to the authors, “the Michigan Good Food Charter is a tool for communication, advocacy, and evaluation”. As someone working in an organization that is actively trying to make change in the food system, I’ll add that it’s an anchor for our work. It helps me see and explain how the work we’re doing with ValleyHUB is contributing to a larger movement - it helps me know we’re not alone, and to have a better understanding of where to look for help when we need it.

A Vision for Good Food: Resilience through Diversity

The Charter defines an overarching vision: “Michigan has a thriving food economy distinguished by equity, health, and sustainability.” It outlines six dimensions of a “good food system”: it’s a system that is accessible, equitable, fair, healthy, diverse, and sustainable - and it defines these dimensions broadly and inclusively. 

The one that stands out to me the most is “diverse”. The Charter defines diversity in terms of “scale, products, means of access, markets, production strategies, ownership models, and foodways” - recognizing that in diversity lies resilience. There is no one right way to structure a food system; we need efficient, high-volume producers and distributors; we need small farms and cottage food businesses; and we need all kinds of people to participate according to their own abilities and resources. 

At ValleyHUB, we strive to support many sizes and scales of food businesses, focusing on the ones on the big side of small, which may get less support from other parts of the food system.

Goals: It’s not just about LOCAL

The Charter defines six broad goals: 

  • Food Access to Food Sovereignty
  • Farm and Food Business Viability
  • Health Equity
  • Fair Wages and Economic Opportunity
  • Sustainable Ecosystems
  • Climate Change Mitigation and Resilience

What’s critical to me about the list of goals here is that LOCAL is not a goal, in a Charter that specifically focuses on a single state’s food system. The word only appears once on the page, and it’s in the context of needing a “dynamic mix of local, regional, national, and global food sources.” Local and regional food systems are a tool to achieve the goals, not an end in themselves.

This is important framing especially around climate change: the science is clear that local food systems are not better from a carbon emissions standpoint. (Want to dig into this further? Here’s a good podcast to start) But conversely - local food production and distribution systems are a critical part of resilience and mitigation of climate crisis. 

So then why work to build local food systems, if they’re not the end goal? It goes back to the need for resilience through diversity. So many other economic, social, and political factors favor consolidated global supply chains that we must make a concerted effort, collaboratively, to build local- and regional-scale systems in order to foster that diversity.

A Food System Explainer

After defining shared goals, the new Charter document pauses to clarify what is meant by “food systems” in one of the best explainers I’ve seen (p10-11 of the document):

 

 

  • Natural ecosystems are the foundation of food production.
  • There are multiple actors involved in the “food supply chain” that gets food from fields to plates.
  • Economics, policy, and social influences shape how food gets to us in complex and dynamic ways, and
  • How food gets to us, in turn, shapes personal, social, economic, political, and ecosystem outcomes.

Food Supply Chain white bg

The Charter then goes on to discuss what’s going wrong in our current food system: the struggles of small farms and challenges of food production; the low-wage jobs and labor shortages in agriculture and food processing operations; the inability of household and institutional food service budgets to afford healthy food; the environmental degradation caused by common agricultural practices. And the Charter explicitly calls out our long history of racism and exploitation of land and people as the foundation of the current food system and the root cause of its downsides. This page (p. 12-13) is the WHY of the Charter: change is imperative.

At last, the Charter defines a framework for action by laying out six key strategies that “describe how we can work toward the vision and results” - and mapping onto these 22 actions that individuals and organizations can take to contribute to the strategies. As I reviewed the list, I was proud to note that ValleyHUB is directly working on several of these actions: 3, 4, 5, 9, 12, 17, 19, 21, and 22! 

This brings me back to what the Charter is FOR. I often grapple with the feeling that our work is too little, in the face of the massive scale of some of the challenges. We’re only connected with a couple dozen partners, moving only half a million dollars worth of food a year - a drop in the bucket of what even just the residents of Kalamazoo County need to eat. But in the context of the Charter, I know there are other organizations around the state working on similar, related or complementary initiatives, and together we can move the needle. 

ValleyHUB is proud to be a part of this movement, working to build a more accessible, equitable, fair, healthy, diverse, and sustainable food system in Michigan, one day at a time. I hope you’ll read the Charter (if you haven’t already!), see your work reflected in it as well, and sign on.


September 19, 2022
By: Rachel Bair, Director for Sustainable and Innovative Food Systems
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