Saturday, June 11, 2011

Digesting a Different View on the Food Industry

One of the most memorable presentations at the recent International Economic Development Council's Spring Conference in Indy was from an unlikely source.  Dan Carmody, President of the Detroit Eastern Market, gave a different view on the food processing industry.  His presentation stood out as it was a great departure from the globally-focused, build big boxes World in which many of us in the room normally find ourselves working.

I have to admit.  I saw attracting an international food processor to locate at our industrial park as much more impactful on our economy than a network of local farmer's markets.  I'm now convinced of the merits of a different point of view.

His presentation was more convincing than most because it was both informative and humorous (It's hard to make sarcasm work as well as Dan did.).  I especially appreciated the PowerPoint slide that showed salsa, chips, cheese puffs, and beef jerky at a convenience store as an example of how one's daily diversity of food groups can be achieved.

Here's how Carmody's mission was described in the speakers' program: 

"Eastern Market seeks to build the MOO Food Shed (Michigan, Ontario, Ohio) into the nation's most robust regional food system by building alternative distribution methods to address food access issues in under served communities, by fostering a new generation of local food processing to increase food sector employment and create new markets for food that will be grown in the City of Detroit, and by further enhancing Eastern Market as a compelling retail food destination."

The MOO food shed is Dan's vision of Detroit at the center of a multi-state, two-nation regional food distribution system that sees existing urban markets like the Eastern Market and neighborhood-based ways to distribute locally-produced food.

Detroit's national grocery chain presence has eroded and Dan's Eastern Market has been an integral part of meeting Southeast Michigan's grocery needs in some old-style, yet modern-in-practice ways.  The Eastern Market is increasing its historic role as a wholesale location for regional grocers and encouraging food carts and corner markets for further distribution.

His Twitter account profile reads "Place Maker and Local Food System Advocate" to ably describe his vision for the Eastern Market and his very clear advocacy.

The largest take away from Dan's remarks was that if the U.S. could move the average American's source of food in his diet to 20%  regionally-sourced food, the U.S. economy would benefit as would American's diets.  Dan predicts this vision, if realized, would also bring solutions to our health care problems as well.


Dan's presentation had an immediate impact on me.  I passed on eating the cookie at the refreshment break after his remarks.  I had a Michigan apple instead.

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