March 18 2013 12:00 AM

State agriculture director addresses local food advocates in Lansing today

Keith Creagh
Thursday, Aug. 18 —- Michigan’s agriculture industry is huge. It employs nearly 25 percent of the workforce and contributes more than $71 billion dollars to the state economy.

And while the state plans to expand that industry even farther, Michigan’s agriculture director today stressed the importance of local farmers markets and food banks playing a role in improving access to locally grown and healthy produce in communities.

“If there isn’t local leadership, forget it — it’s not going to work,” said Keith Creagh, director of the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Creagh was the keynote speaker at the Michigan Environmental Council’s “Good Food in Mid-Michigan” event held today at the Michigan Municipal League offices downtown, 208 N. Capitol Ave.

Creagh defined local food as being within 100 miles of the consumer and healthy food as that which requires minimal processing. The event included representatives from local food and sustainability advocates from the Allen Neighborhood Center and The Purple Carrot, a new food truck restaurant that claims to be the state’s first farm-to-truck food stand.

Creagh also suggested investing in local food producers as a way to supply area schools with fresh produce and keep dollars local.

Creagh said the Snyder administration hopes to expand access to safe and healthy food supplies through the use of farmers markets and hoop houses, which have been expanding in the Lansing area. At an Aug. 3 production agriculture summit, Creagh said the administration laid out its five-year plan: increase production from $71 billion to $100 billion, double exports and increase jobs by 10 percent.

“We can do some things ourselves, but we can do a lot together,” Creagh said.

In an otherwise dreary state economy, Creagh said agriculture is bucking the trend.

“At a time when we were losing 850,000 jobs, (agriculture) was expanding,” Creagh said. “Food and (agriculture) is something we need to pay attention to. I don’t believe forestry, mining and agriculture are tired industries that you shouldn’t invest in.”

At-Large Lansing City Council candidate Rory Neuner, who is affiliated with the Michigan Environmental Council through her project coordinator position with Transportation for Michigan, helped organize the event and said local food systems are spurring economic growth.

“As an economic development tool, we have a number of new restaurants, a number of new enterprises like the food cart business,” she said. “We’re not only helping people become more healthy, but people are making money and we’re putting people to work so it’s exciting.”