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Posted on Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

University of Michigan's decision to buy more local food will boost farmers, processors

By Lizzy Alfs

With the University of Michigan announcing the launch of a $14 million sustainability initiative this week, local farmers and producers are likely to see a benefit, officials said.

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said one of the university's new environmental sustainability goals is to buy at least 20 percent of its food from local and sustainable sources by 2025. The university's initiative fits in with the broader "buy local" movement that's sweeping the food industry.

“From the residence halls to the unions and hospitals, the university is introducing new purchasing guidelines,” U-M said in a statement.

The goal means that the university will more than double its purchases from local and sustainable sources, said Drew Horning, deputy director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, the group that spearheaded the research for the university’s initiative.


University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman announces new sustainability initiatives during a speech given at the Hatcher Graduate Library on Tuesday.

Angela Cesere |

“When we had a group go out and try to document the percentage we have coming in from these sources already, it was in the single digits,” Horning said. “But we didn’t get a complete response rate back.”

Local food usually means that the food must be procured within a 250-mile radius of the campus, Horning said. However, U-M has broadened the definition to include the entire state of Michigan.

Many other universities have similar sustainable food goals, including the University of California, Appalachian State University and Emory University, which has a goal for 75 percent local or sustainably grown food by 2015.

But Horning said although some universities have higher goals, U-M has developed stricter policies for determining what can be considered local and sustainable.

“Even if we’re buying something like a can of soup that is processed in a manufacturing facility with a 250-mile radius, we will only count that towards our goal if at least 50 percent of ingredients also come from within that radius,” he said.

“So not only is it being packaged here, but the ingredients coming from the local area,” he continued.

Horning said the goal doesn’t include third party venues, such as catering companies.

“If we use a local caterer, that wouldn’t count toward our goal,” he said. “We wouldn’t exclude a caterer for not using local ingredients, but when we go out for contracts, this is going to be a consideration.” He said the food initiative is important for a lot of reasons, including the impact on the natural environment, the local community and local food providers.

“The food initiative is a goal that people can very easily identify with,” he said. “It’s one of the things that is very visible.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Surprisingly, the Peoples Food Coop has been promoting this for decades. What took you so long to figure this out U of M, not as smart as you think you are!

Michael Cohen

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

If you want to know more about where your food comes from a very interesting web project on tracking food is at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> .

Kara H

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

This is a great idea and announcement, but it will be non-trivial to implement. As a northern state, Michigan's production periods are almost the complete inverse of UM's consumption periods annually. It will take some time for local producers to ramp up to be able to meet this market with new crops in rotation, greenhouses and canning/freezing operations. But if UM remains committed it will be worth it for them to make the investment. I'm usually impatient for progress on initiatives, but I'm glad UM set the target date out to 2025.

Kara H

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 3:37 p.m.

Right. Or local producers will invest in processing ops, like drying, freezing or canning. I'm not seeing UM students going for root vegetables all winter long :-)


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

Of course, this means you have to eat what is in season. You can't have fresh apples in May.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 1:07 p.m.

Is this something that is really newsworthy? Even the casual observer would agree that buying food stuff from the local area is smart-cheaper shipping, fresher produce and personal relations. So, the smart people agree that what we did back in the 1950's is the smart choice! What Genius figured this out? DAAAAAA!


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 3:53 p.m.

I'm getting weary of posts questioning newsworthiness. If you're not interested, move on to another article. Apparently this one held your attention to the extent that you expressed an opinion about it. We can each decide for ourselves whether a topic is relevant.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:07 p.m.

This is a stellar idea, I've often wondered why we ship food from Michigan all across the country then buy food grown other places and ship it here. Lets make Michigan srtong again, unlike the auto industry we cant stop buying food.