Micro-Grants Encourage Biodiversity in Local Food System

Thank you to guest blogger Rachelle Bostwick for writing this post.

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Slow Food West Michigan recently announced the recipients of its inaugural Biodiversity Micro-Grants. The grants provide funding to small-scale farmers cultivating heirloom varieties and heritage breeds, and are in the amount of $200 to $500.  

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Slow Food strives to preserve our food heritage and maintain diversity in the food supply. A biodiverse diet is not only more nutritious, but also makes for a more stable food system and a richer local food and farming culture.

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“It is our hope that the biodiversity micro-grants will impact the local food system overtime by providing small local farmers with additional resource needed to support their efforts to increase the food variety available to local communities in the central West Michigan area particularly those in underserved areas who have limited understanding, access and exposure to diverse, healthy, and affordable food choices.” said Cindee Dresen, president of Slow Food West Michigan.

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Micro-grant recipients include: Two Sparrows Farm and Dairy & Nourish Organic Market, Earthkeeper Farm, Our Kitchen Table, Hope Farms, Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, Schuler Farms, and Plainsong Farm. Each farm or organization is doing a special project to support biodiversity in our area. 

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Two Sparrows Farm and Dairy will be raising a pair of heritage breed pigs on pasture and with non-GMO grains. The family farm raises pasture meat, including pork, beef, chicken, and turkey, as well as milk.  They are committed to sustainable farming practices and humane treatment of animal. 

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Nourish Organic Market is partnering with Two Sparrows for the project. Nourish will be contributing food scraps from the store for the pigs, as well as working with the farmers to bring this meat to the public. The project will culminate in a nose-to-tail butchering event where participates can learn about how the animal was raised and take home a portion of the meat.  

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Schuler Farms will be growing an heirloom variety of potato called Laratte French Fingerling. “This particular variety is rare and sought after by many chefs.” says the farmer, Bruce Schuler. Their farm is based on diversity, growing a wide array of different vegetables and varieties. These special spuds will be available through their Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) and at the Caledonia Farmers Market. 

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Earthkeeper Farm’s grant project is raising certified organic, heirloom transplants.  There are 34 different varieties of vegetables available. These unique types include, ‘Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry,’ ‘Moon and Stars Watermelon,’ and ‘Cherokee Purple Tomato.’ Many of the varieties are from Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, which is a list of foods specifically valued for their outstanding flavor and meaningful role they play in the food system. Plants are available for pre-order through the farm or at the Fulton Street Farmers Market. 

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We are lucky to have an abundance of skilled farmers growing unique and wonderful crops in our area. These grants give us yet another reason to partake in the delicious local food system right here in West Michigan.

Institute for Local Self Reliance releases survey results

The Advocates for Independent Business (AIB) and the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) teamed up to create a survey that would test the waters across the nation in regards to the effects that local first campaigns have on a variety of different areas of business.

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In its 8th year, the most recent survey gathered data from 3,057 independent and locally owned businesses from across the nation. The range of businesses surveyed is vast – recent start-ups, century old businesses, manufacturers, farmers, banks, restaurants – you name the company and the ILSR surveyed them.

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We understand that nobody wants to sit here and read a bunch of graphs and long data forms, but just hear me out. What you’re about to read will make you proud to live in a region with a resilient local economy such as ours.

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In 2014, independent business communities saw a revenue increase of 9.3{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} compared to only a 4.9{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} increase in similar communities without a local first campaign. Local First West Michigan member businesses saw a revenue increase of 17{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} in 2014 alone. That’s an astounding 7.7{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} higher than the average community!

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Additionally, 69{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of respondents reported that having a local first campaign in their community positively impacted their business. 57{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of respondents located in local first cities and who market the campaign heavily said that they saw a positive impact on their business. What is even more impressive is that 16{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of businesses who are listed in the campaign but who do not actively promote it still saw a positive impact. That goes to show you that even if your business does not actively participate in the first campaign, it still has a positive impact. But don’t get the wrong idea; we still want you to promote us – for your sake as much as ours!

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While owning and operating an independent and local business has its many perks, it is not without its difficulties. The ILSR survey asked the respondents about some of the areas that caused their business the most strife. The most popular were: 71{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} said that competition from internet retailers hurt their business, 40{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} said that competition from large brick-and-mortar chains dampened their sales, and that rent or occupancy cost is too high relative to sales was a major issue for 24{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of respondents.

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For the first time, the survey asked independent retailers about the wages that they pay their employees. The results suggest that the pay rate of employees at independently owned businesses far out measure the wages paid to employees at big box stores. 75{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of the businesses surveyed pay their employees $10/hour or more and 34{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} pay their employees $15/hour or more. Proudly, it is reported that 74{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of Local First West Michigan’s members pay their employees $10/hour or more and 43{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of our members pay their employees $15/hour or more.

Local First produces INsight for entrepreneurs

Local First’s INsight Conference is back.

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The 2014 INsight Conference, hosted by the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit, was such a hit that Local First is bringing it back for another year.

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The second-annual event will be this Wednesday, from noon to 6:30 p.m., in Grand Rapids at the BISSELL Tree House at John Ball Zoo, at 1300 Fulton W.

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Registration for the conference will run from noon to 12:45 p.m., with programming from 1-5 p.m. and a cocktail reception from 5-6:30 p.m.

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The event is a conference and forum for entrepreneurs to have candid conversations about business and leadership.

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INsight will feature local business owners offering interviews and case studies about how to build community-engaged businesses and how to increase employee engagement and incentivize green practices.

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Speakers

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The event will feature several speakers: Tami Vandenberg, owner of The Pyramid Scheme and The Meanwhile Bar; Heather VanDyke, owner of Bear Manor Properties and Harmony Brewing Co.; and Ryan Knapp and Trevor Corlett of Madcap Coffee.

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Entrepreneur “community”

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“Owning a local business is deeply intimate and personal, and at INsight, I felt surrounded in this community of people who understood my experience and let me know that this is part of the journey,” said Anissa Eddie, co-owner, Malamiah Juice Bar, who served as a case study at least year’s event.

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“We also gained valuable resource connections and built relationships.”

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Tickets

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Tickets for INsight are $30 for students, $75 for Local First members and $85 for non-members.

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Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online. 
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nOriginally published in Grand Rapids Business Journal

3 things to consider when trying to get the most bang for your “buy local” buck

Our MI Curious project is a news experiment where you submit the questions – your questions are put up for a vote – and we investigate the winning question.

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Holland resident Josh Bishop submitted this question; “I love supporting my local economy, but does “buy local” really have a big impact?”

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“I get the 'heart' thing. I mean if you want to sell me on “shop local” because you feel good and because you want the shops to stick around, I get that. It’s the economic argument that I'm just, I’m not sold on,” Bishop said.

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The sad thing is there’s not a simple answer. Sorry guys.

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The complicated answer is, buying local matters to the local economy, at least some of the time. But honestly, it depends.

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It depends on a lot of different things. It depends on what you’re buying, how many people the business employs locally and how much the business pays. What is considered local anyway, my town, metro area, or state?

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If you’d like to be dragged through that nightmare, please scroll towards the end of the page. I make an attempt to sort out the arguments a little.

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For everyone else, I’m going to help you spend your dollar to get the biggest bang for your region’s economy. More bang for the locally spent buck.

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Step 1: Find out who actually owns the business

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“A lot of people think about local and they think geography. What we really need to be thinking about is ownership,” said Elissa Hillary. She’s the executive director of Local First; a group that advocates for locally owned businesses in West Michigan.

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Hillary argues owners of private companies are more sensitive to their communities.

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“When I’m making business decisions about whether I’m going to keep jobs in the community or whether I’m going to move jobs or what I’m going to do with my waste, I have to face up to the people who are in my community every day; who I’m going to bump into at the grocery store, who I’m going to see at church,” Hillary said, “I’m more likely to make decisions that would be good for my community as well as myself.”

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Hillary’s group did a study in 2008 that looked at the impact local businesses had in Kent County.

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Not all local businesses are small businesses. The Kent County study listed retail giant Meijer as local. But Spartan Stores, now SpartanNash, are not. Both chains are based in Kent County. But Hank and Doug Meijer still own Meijer stores. It’s not publicly traded.

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“They're importing cash back into our community and then they're investing it in ways that we sometimes take for granted,” Hillary said of regional, privately held business.

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The theory is profits at privately owned businesses are more likely to be spent in town where the owner lives, while profits at publicly held companies go off into the stock market.

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But I need to stop here to acknowledge a good point from Don Boudreaux. He’s an economics professor at George Mason University.

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“Some shareholders of some of these large companies, even though they’re headquartered in different states, might very well be your next door neighbor, might very well be you,” Boudreaux said.

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But having Spartan Stores headquartered in Kent County does have an impact on the economy there, even if the company is publicly traded. That’s why when Spartan merged with another grocery chain based in Minneapolis a couple years ago, people in Kent County fought hard to keep the company headquarters.

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So dollars spent at SpartanNash stores have a bigger impact in Kent County than if shoppers went to say Kroger, based in Ohio, or Wal-Mart, even less “local” because it’s not even based in the Midwest.

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Step 2: Look for businesses that buy from other local businesses

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The second step to making sure your dollars make a bigger impact on your region’s economy is more complicated – but really important. You have to look for businesses that buy from other local businesses.

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Dan Houston studies these relationships for Civic Economics, which did the study in Kent County. He says this step is where locally owned businesses really rev the economic engine.

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“It’s the effort that they make, right? The restaurants that care to go down to the market and pick stuff that comes from Michigan,” Houston said, “They brag about it.”

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Houston says big, national chain stores and restaurants tend to use big, national suppliers. But locally owned businesses have much more flexibility.

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The study he did in Kent County in 2008 shows for every $100 you spend at a locally owned business, $68 of that $100 gets spent in Kent County the next time. At other businesses, they estimate $43 recirculates the second time. Houston says that recirculation boosts the local economy.

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Step 3: Consider whether the business donates time or money to your favorite local causes

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The third thing to think about when trying to spend your money to boost the local economy is – charity. Do the places where you spend your money give to your favorite local causes?

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“God, Grand Rapids has the most unbelievable family held company cluster in the country and you know those people really do direct, can I say sh*t-tons of money back into their community because they love the place. They live for it. Other cities would kill for that,” Houston said.

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The Price Question

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Josh Bishop’s original question had a lot to do with the price of goods he buys “local.”

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“I started thinking thinking about it when it was Christmas time and I thought ‘Wow I can order a lot of things online for a lot less money or I can buy these same things locally and spend more money on them,'” Bishop said.

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Bishop isn’t the only one with that perception. We asked Michigan Radio listeners on Facebook and they generally felt the same way; buying local means paying a higher price, but getting a higher quality product and in some cases, better customer service.

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“I think there are a lot of large companies that have significant marketing budgets that can tell us that their prices are less and I think sometimes that’s true and sometimes that’s not true,” Local First’s Elissa Hillary replied.

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Some business owners told me they have lowered prices because they have to compete with online and national retailers. George Mason University’s Don Boudreaux says this is a very important point. More choice and competition is better for consumers.

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“Your living standards are not improved by restricting your range of choices just for some geographic reason,” Boudreaux said.

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Boudreaux says “local” businesses would love more people in their region to shop local, but says they’re more and more depending on selling globally.

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“I think thinking Local First is about finding balance in that,” Hillary said, “There are certain things that will never make economic sense for each community to produce individually, like cars.”

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Originally published on Michigan Radio.

Growers’ Fare to connect farmers and consumers

Local First will host its first Growers' Fare, an event aimed at introducing consumers to West Michigan farms that offer community supported agriculture shares.

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CSA shares allow families or individuals to purchase weekly shares of produce grown on farms in the region.

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The event on Saturday, March 21 is free and will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the ground level of the Downtown Market.Featuring 20 West Michigan-based CSAs, the event will run from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. At 10 a.m., there will be a “CSA 101” presentation and include several other presentations about CSAs and share cooking demonstrations.

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“Attendees will be able to learn about the benefits of community supported agriculture, how to prep and cook meals with their produce share, and find the share that is right for them based on pick-up location and what the farm offers in the share,” according to a news release announcing the event.

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There will be presentations on the above in addition to nutrition and and workplace CSA programs, and discussion about food accessibility in relation to produce shares.

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IF YOU GO

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Growers Fare at Downtown Market 
n• 10-10:30am – CSA 101 (with Eighth Day Farm)
n• 11-11:30am – Workplace CSA Programs (with Spectrum Health)
n• 12-12:30pm – Using Your Share cooking demo (with TerraGR)
n• 1-1:30pm – CSA and Nutrition (with Spectrum Health)
nSource: Downtown Market 

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nFarms that will be present at the event include:

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Blackacre Farm Products
nGrandsons Gardens LLC
nSchuler Farms
nThe Urban Mushroom
nMelody Bee Farms
nMud Lake Farm LLC
nEighth Day Farm
nChimney Creek Farm
nGreen Wagon Farm
nGroundswell Community Farm
nGreen Pastures
nBlandford Farm
nHope Farms
nTwo Sparrows Farm & Dairy
nFull Hollow Farm
nBlackbird Farms
nNew City Urban Farm
nEarthkeeper Farm
nPeach Ridge Farms
nVisser Farms

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Growers' Fare is a collaboration of Local First, the West Michigan Growers Group, and MSU Extension.

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Event sponsors include Downtown Market, Spectrum Health, GRNow.com, The Image Shoppe, Fair Food Network, and Michigan Farmers Market Association.
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nRead original article here by Jim Harger.