With national politics mired in partisan gridlock, American communities invent solutions to hunger and nutrition problems. The links between schools and local food producers and between tribes and markets create local versions of a circular economy.
The good news: democracy prevailed in our November 8 midterm elections! Our votes were counted in a fair and orderly fashion, and most of the deniers (that the 2020 presidential election was valid) were denied election. The Republicans who were expected to win a majority in both houses of government failed to triumph: Democrats held a narrow lead in the Senate and lost the House of Representatives by an unexpectedly thin margin.
The bad news: such margins threaten gridlock, foreclosing significant national legislation on crucial issues.
Take hunger and food insecurity (hunger is that empty feeling in your stomach for one out of eight American children; food insecurity is their parents’ struggle between paying for food, housing, or medicine when they can’t afford all three): the Child Tax Credit in The American Rescue Act provided $3600 a year for families with children under 6 and $3000 for families with children 6-17: However, with Democrats and Republicans squared off against each other, it is unlikely to be renewed.
Fortunately, the fierce desire for practical solutions that impelled so many Americans to vote in the midterms is empowering local communities to devise solutions to child hunger and put them into action.
I live in the Detroit Metropolitan Area of Michigan (downstate) and have a river cabin in Northwest Michigan (upstate); both are hopping with energetic and effective community organizers.
In my first (2016) Impakter column, I wrote (with considerable chutzpa) about “Mutant Capitalism” and “The Circular Economy,” presenting vast concepts like Joshua Rifkin’s vision of a new social commons outstripping the economic market and the European Commission’s 2014 proposal for a circular economy.
At an international level, the World Food Programme supports school feeding programs that now reach 15 million children in 61 countries; based on using local products, these programs are valuable inputs into sustainable farming for local food producers:
But this circular economy model applied to school feeding is not just followed in the Global South. The industrialized West is also developing its own models, as I have witnessed in my part of the world.
Farm to School: A fast-growing program
We often think of the Circular Economy on a national scale, but community initiatives supported by a variety of commercial, private, and state stakeholders are creating local versions of these feedback loops.
The Groundwork Center for Resilience in Traverse City Michigan (formerly the Michigan Land Use Institute) has developed a circular economic plan linking local farmers and school children in a way beneficial to both. Their Farm to School programs support the communications and outreach efforts for an incentive called 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms; they also sponsor FoodCorps Service members who provide in-school nutritional education.
10 Cents a Meal, implemented by the Michigan Department of Education, provides Michigan schools (k-12, early childcare centers) with matching funds to purchase and serve Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans for school meals and other promotional activities supporting the effort.
The 10 Cents a Meal program has been so successful that in July 2022 Michigan’s Governor Whitmer signed a bipartisan education statewide budget to secure statewide funding of $9.3 million for the 2022-2023 program year.
The way it works is that the schools:
- apply for the state grant and are awarded funds based on 10 cents ($0.10) times the number of meals served in the past year;
- arrange to buy Michigan-grown food from local farmers and those who distribute it;
- purchase and serve local food, spending double their grant award, usually using federal funds designated for school lunch for their match;
- submit necessary invoice information and complete reporting and evaluation tasks and are reimbursed up to their maximum grant award;
As a result, children benefit from teachings about food, nutrition, and agriculture, which is part of the marketing and education requirements of the program.
As Groundwork’s Food and Farming Program Director Jen Schaap analyzes the implications of this new innovative social commons in a recent insightful article:
“If all schools in the United States served locally grown foods and coupled that with good food education and experiences, Farm to School could help address the tragedy of declining childhood health across the nation. And ultimately, as children live out their lives, that could mean helping alleviate the skyrocketing cost of healthcare and poor health outcomes that our country continues to suffer.
So, yes, Farm to School is about a farmer selling a beautiful batch of fresh produce to a nearby school. But, in that, there is the potential for a powerful, healthful, and delicious transformation. And that’s something worth celebrating!”
A related program embracing the Farm to School concept is FoodCorps, a national program that places Food Education service members in local communities. Groundwork’s Edward Veenstra reports that “Most Food Education service members are assigned to a school where they connect with teachers, food service, and school gardeners to teach food-related lessons.”
Veenstra lists some of FoodCorps’ successes in specific Michigan towns, among them:
- “Alanson: The garden space and the school’s food pantry were expanded and a new supply cart is now in use by Foodcorp members for all the cooking lessons in the classroom – so that getting from class to class is a breeze, and the time gained means more instruction time;
- Pellston: with Foodcorp past and present members’ help, school staff and students are given the resources they need to continue their food education helped along by the solar panels next to the garden area – thus making best use of green energy.
- East Jordan: a model school for how food, culture, and nature can intersect and weave tightly together, thanks to a powerful combination of food-growing expertise and knowledge of Anishinabek culture; now, Foodcorp members together with the teachers are able to instill in students a sense of deep connection with the regional past, its local customs and indigenous food.”
Indigenous farming and regeneration
“Around the world,” notes Alaskan native (Denaakk’e/Lumbee) Nazune Manka, “Indigenous Peoples represent only 6.2 percent of the population but manage about 25 percent of the land, which in turn contains 80 percent of global biodiversity.”
The Anishinabek participation in the farm-to-school program in East Jordon is but one example of how their group of tribes, including Ottawa (or Odawa ), Potawatomi, and Chippewa, are interweaving their traditional food practices into local economies.
As Kayla Nelson puts it “ Indigenous food markets in Michigan grow as Native Americans reclaim heritage”. Two tribal enterprises, Ziibimijwang Farm and Dynamite Hill Farm exemplify Native Americans taking alternative approaches to the farm economy.
For example, at the Ziibimijwang Farm, maple trees are tapped for sugar and the syrup it makes is subsequently sold at the Minogin Market in Mackinaw City. ‘Building Indigenous food sovereignty by reclaiming the presence of Indigenous products in the Mackinac area and across the country is Ziibimijwang and Minogin Market’s mission,’ said Joe VanAlstine, who is now on the Groundwork board and, as he explained, ‘The farm also packs food boxes for tribal elders’.”
At L’Anse, which is located across the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan’s Upper Pennisula, Jerry Jondreau and Katy Bresette operate Dynamite Hill Farms, using indigenous food traditions to help their communities.
As Nelson notes, “Jondreau’s alternative approach to business is what host Andi Murphy of ‘Toasted Sister Podcast,’ a radio show about Native American food, calls ‘Indigenomics,’ Making a profit is often idolized in the current economic system, (Murphy) said. “But in Native America, we’re always thinking about our community and making it a better place and situation. That’s the main difference.”
The ecological philosophy underlying Native American land economy derives from understanding interactions between people and natural phenomena as between tribes seeking the right relation to revered natural beings that are also (non-human) “persons.”
In a previous Impakter article, I examined the case of Manoomin v. Minnesota where wild rice, which is a sacred ally and vital nutritional commodity for the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, is the plaintiff.
Native American tribes and nations are forming partnerships with a variety of stakeholders. They have agreed to co-manage lands and rivers with land conservancy organizations in order to maintain biodiversity and produce products for consumption and marketing.
In Massachusetts, the Native Land Conservancy (NLC) and Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT) grant land rights to NLC and the Wampanoag Nation in order to explore commonalities between wilderness conservation and indigenous tradition and lifeways.
In restoring their traditional food practices in ways that feed their communities as well as preserve ecosystems, Native Americas are developing a new/old twist on the circular economy based on traditional tribal practice.
While it is imperative that we continue to fight for national legislation to ameliorate America’s shocking levels of child hunger and food insecurity, in the Farm to School programs, as in Tribal farm-to-market practices, Michigan communities have created an effective circular economy at the local level.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: USDA poster (Sept.2015) See full fact sheet on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act: www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2015/09/0… Source: USDA (on Flickr)