Dec. 26 2013 12:00 AM

A look back at healthy eating choices in the Lansing area


It’s been an exciting year for local food and agriculture, adding to the impressive progress that’s been made over the last decade.

“The last five to 10 years have been a dynamic time for food and farming in the Lansing area,” said Laura DeLind, co-founder of the Lansing Urban Farm project. “The growth of urban agriculture programs, ORGANIC farmers markets, licensed kitchens, incubator farms, beginning farmer workshops and grants, community gardens and nutritional education have all contributed to a more food-savvy population and a more secure food system. This growth in food and farming infrastructure is a source for new jobs and increased food access, creativity and entrepreneurship.”

A year ago, farm-to-table restaurants in mid-Michigan were still relatively new. The first two, Lansing’s Fork in the Road and Okemos’ Red Haven, evolved from their food truck counterparts, Trailer Park’d and Purple Carrot. Scratch Italian restaurant Tannin, utilizing several local producers, debuted over the summer in Okemos during the first-ever Capital Area Restaurant Week. And Wandering Waffles inside the Lansing City Market features fresh waffles made with local ingredients and innovative, homemade toppings.

The area has also seen a trend in community supported agriculture programs.

The MSU Student Organic Farm offers bountiful shares of produce from its passive solar greenhouses and hoophouses all year long. And the Hunter Park Garden- House, a project of Allen Neighborhood Center, offers a winter CSA with weekly shares of local, organic offerings in addition to its spring and summer programs.

Other CSAs will soon be accepting new members for spring and summer, like CBI’s Giving Tree Farm, Thornapple CSA, Titus Farms, Wildflower Eco Farm and Capital Village Trade Cooperative.

Community gardens have been popping up all over town, with support from projects like the Greater Lansing Food Bank Garden Project and Ingham County Land Bank’s Garden Program. Many of these gardens were showcased in July during the annual GLFB Garden Project’s Community Garden Tour.

Lansing has also seen a growth in the number of farmers markets. Local farmers are connecting like never before with urban and suburban customers, offering local, sustainably grown food and fostering agricultural education. And while most markets wound down as the days grew colder, a few refused to quit: The Meridian market moved into Meridian Mall (open every first and third Saturday of the month) and the Allen Market Place on Kalamazoo Street opened this November to provide a warm, vibrant space for the Allen Street Farmers Market to continue year round.

The Allen Market Place is the first nonprofit food hub in mid-Michigan with a commercial incubator kitchen and food exchange. It’s an exciting initiative with goals shared by other new area projects such as GLFB’s Lansing Roots, a new program designed to help beginning, limited resource and/or historically underserved gardeners and farmers in an incubator farm setting.

Beyond produce, markets are increasingly offering local meat products raised and processed naturally. Producers such as Tirrell Centennial Farm in Charlotte, Spartan Country Meats in Webberville, McLaughlin Farm in Jackson, Otto’s Chicken in Middleville and Lonesome Pines Beef in Nashville are increasingly available at area markets, in addition to venues such as Mert’s Specialty Meats in Okemos, the Lansing City Market, the East Lansing Food Co-Op and the new Old Town General Store.

Collectively, this paints a pretty picture. It’s a good time to get involved in the Lansing-area local food scene, for reasons ranging from a healthy diet to neighborhood gatherings, from the health of the soil, plants and animals to community development and social justice.

“Food is a connector and an equalizer,” DeLind explained. “It belongs to real people living in real places: In urban, suburban, blue-collar and white-collar neighborhoods. Food contains culture, history, memory and meaning. And most importantly, food is a right of all people.”

This is an important lesson food activists and planners must keep in mind as we continue to move forward.

“We cannot afford to forget that our job is really about empowering area residents to share in, take ownership of and actively defend this work,” DeLind emphasized. “And our first responsibility is to keep resources in local hands and to keep the food system responsive to local needs and the unique character of the Lansing area.

“We are well on our way, but we still have a long way to go.”