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E-M:/ Detroit Free Press OP ED - Wednesday, November 22, 2007

To Michiganders interested in food, development, and health issues,

The pasted in Op Ed ran in the Detroit Free Press this morning.
This is part of our campaign to make local healthy food a statewide imperative.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Chris Bedford

Christopher B. Bedford
Center for Economic Security
#6543 Hancock Road
Montague, MI 49437
231-893-3937 (o)
231-670-4817 (c)

The Center for Economic Security conducts organizing and educational campaigns
to help business and government gain their competitive advantage from their ability to work with nature, to accept nature's order and operate within its laws.
This is called ecological intelligence.

<x-tad-bigger>LOCAL COMMENT: Grow Michigan's food business


November 22, 2006

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Christopher Bedford

Michigan needs to win the food game.

Newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck once observed: "Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare and 12 minutes to consume -- the length of most televised football half times." This Thanksgiving, perhaps, the food will get a little more attention than the Detroit-Miami game, given the Lions' record. But, for the most part, food is an invisible force in Michigan. It is taken for granted. Its source is unknown.

Few people know that less than 5% of the dollars spent on food in Michigan go to state farmers.

This inattention may be ending.

On Oct. 12, the Michigan Food Policy Council released 20 recommendations for Gov. Jennifer Granholm's review. In general, the report calls for bettering the economic viability of Michigan farms, in part through programs that directly connect consumers to locally grown, healthy food.

This work by the council represents an important first step toward acknowledging the critical role that Michigan's food system plays in our state's future.

Take, for instance, health care. In 2004, Medicaid expenditures consumed 28% of the state's general fund, with the percentage predicted to rise to 40% within the next few years. Much of this budget-busting increase could be avoided and even reversed through an intentional program of prevention built around healthy Michigan-grown food.

For example, Michigan providers spent $3.7 billion in 2004 to treat Type 2 diabetes, more than 90% of which could have been treated with diet.

Wouldn't it have been cheaper and more effective to provide healthy local food to these diabetes sufferers?

In Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health's NOW program (Nutritional Options for Wellness) treats seven major diseases with doctor's prescriptions for healthy food with spectacular results.

Education could also reap rewards from this new attention to our food supply. Virtually every Michigan leader has called for improvements in educational attainment as critical to our collective future. Yet little mention has been made of the importance of proper nutrition in preparing children to learn. Increasing the number of farm-to-school programs, school and urban gardening programs (both recommendations of the Food Policy Council) could do much to increase both student nutrition and local farm income.

Finally, healthy local food is good business for Michigan.

If every Michigan household dedicated just $10 a week to buy Michigan-produced food, that would generate an estimated $5 billion in new economic activity. This boon would require not a dime of public money.

Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, writes that "the most valuable natural resource in the 21st Century is brains. Smart people tend to be mobile. Watch where they go. Because where they go, robust economic activity will follow."

In the new industries of the 21st Century, quality of life can play a more important role than tax breaks in business location decisions. Opinion surveys have discovered that local food produced by farmers consumers can know -- "food with a human face" -- is a high priority for the "smart people" that Michigan arduously works to attract. Being intentional about developing its own food supply could give Michigan the competitive edge it needs.

CHRISTOPHER BEDFORD, 62, is cofounder of the Sweetwater Local Foods Market in Muskegon and president of the Center for Economic Security, a new nonprofit dedicated to the proposition that "the only secure economy is an ecologically sustainable economy." Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or oped@freepress.com.

Copyright © 2006 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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