“It’s never too late in life to have a genuine adventure.” ~ Robert Kurson
By Bill Palladino
Every group of friends has someone that is perennially late to the show. You know the kind. “I didn’t know when it started,” or, “where did it say it was a formal event?” Mea culpa! That would be me and more specifically the organization I represent, the GTFA. We’ve been hanging around since 2013, but we’ve been a bit shy and quiet. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy; it just means that we’ve arrived after careful consideration, and we’re ready to burn our candle long into the night.
Let me introduce you to the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance (GTFA.)
We’re a nonprofit organization created as a direct result of conversations within the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network. The subject was the availability of infrastructure to support the local agriculture community and its ability to serve the region’s economy. In turn, the discussion was driven by the outcomes of The Grand Vision project (remember that?) and the Good Food Charter. Both initiatives pushed the “20% local food by 2020” goal. A task force was born, and possibilities explored. Task force partners included Cherry Capital Foods, Networks Northwest, 9 Bean Rows farm, MSU Extension, the Groundwork Center, Black Star Farms, Goodwill of Northern Michigan Food Rescue, Oryana Natural Foods, Commonplace Practice Law, and others.
Fairly soon, a potential solution was envisioned to create a facility to house a collaborative home for food aggregation, value-added food processing, and food distribution. Cherry Capital Foods helped to lead the conversation at this table as they were in the midst of planning a new warehouse/distribution facility. Soon, a new nonprofit was born to fill in the mission-based aspects of this community effort. Thus was created the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance. The collective idea was to establish a “food innovation hub” that could collocate all these pieces under one roof.
After a feasibility study, and at least one location evaluated and abandoned, Cherry Capital Foods selected 1610 Barlow Street in Traverse City as its new home. CCF’s visionary leader, Chip Hoagland, invited GTFA to take over 12,000 square feet on the first floor of the newly renovated facility. In quick-order, the board found grant funds from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to help pay for critical infrastructure to make the facility a reality. In mid-2015 Cherry Capital Foods opened the building with GTFA offering nine ready-made suites available for lease to value-added local food businesses.
Soon after opening the doors of the GT Food Innovation Hub, we reached full-capacity. Occupants ranged from our first tenant; the Michigan Hop Alliance, to others including Cultured Ferments kombucha, The Redheads healthful food products, Kale Mary Bloody Mary mixes, WhiskTC, and Gaijin Restaurant (making ramen noodles with locally grown and milled grain.) We also house several supportive organizations including Taste the Local Difference and the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network (FFN), among others.
In short, we’ve already realized a good part of our vision to make 1610 Barlow the center of food and agriculture conversations in northern Michigan. On most days at the Food Innovation Hub, you’ll find a variety of meetings happening. The GTFA facility has state of the art web-conferencing capabilities in our conference room, free WiFi, and a comfortable lounge for dropping-in and getting work done.
In October 2017, the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance made another pivotal decision, this time to hire its first staff member. Up until now, the organization had been completely volunteer-run by its board of directors. So now, as we enter our fifth year, we’re finally showing up to the party, and we intend to make an impression.
Our first project in the public eye will be to build a food system library and media center here at the Food Innovation Hub. The media center is designed to support the many entrepreneurs and businesses starting or growing here in Northern Michigan. You’ll be seeing requests for donations of cash and for select books to help seed this important community resource. For more information, see this related blog post. There’s also a fundraising post on our Facebook page.
I am excited to be the GTFA’s first staff member as its executive director. The board is challenging me to build upon our current successes, come out of our shell, and begin to realize our full mission to impact northern Michigan’s food system. I encourage you to visit our website, like our Facebook page, and watch for us on Twitter and Instagram (@MiFoodHub.) You’ll be hearing more from us in the coming weeks and months. We’d love to hear from you and have you become part of our adventure.