NMU should commit to ‘Good Food’

Michael Williams

Reviewing the Lake Superior Good Food Charter, the vision presented by this initiative is less penetrating than the total absence of U.P. institutions. Despite the Upper Peninsula spanning the majority of U.S.’s Superior shoreline, nearly all of the Charter’s signatories, each committed to reinvigorating regional food production, are from Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Including colleges. Northland College in Wisconsin is not only a signatory, they exceeded their goal of 20 percent local food on campus for the 2012-13 academic year by a five-percent margin. Beyond flying in naysayers’ faces, Northland’s goal for the 2013-14 academic year is 30 percent. The Charter’s official signatory is Chartwells Northland, their Dining Services equivalent.

Northern could do the same. Rather than dodge progressive trends (ones based in pragmatic responses to growing dilemmas), NMU could too situate itself as a forward-thinking institution. Granted, NMU’s enrollment far exceeds Northland’s. But then so do NMU’s finances.Signing the Good Food Charter would situate NMU in solidarity with a laundry-list of regional institutions committed to Superior and personal health.

The Detroit Free Press recently deemed Marquette as Michigan’s “most sustainable city,” based solely on its walkability and bike-friendly urban design. The article lauded Marquette General Hospital and NMU for being sustainable employers and the city’s walkability as distinct, progressive qualities that rival Minneapolis, Minn. and Boulder, Colo. What the article did not mention are the myriad farms and food gardens around Marquette, nor the city’s capacity for more sustainable food production. The article fell short.

NMU’s spatial expanses provide ample opportunity for agricultural experimentation. We need a box garden here, a food forest there and open access for students to practice common property ownership while establishing healthy habits in youth.Beyond the economic security provided by local food production, such a move would provide educational opportunities offered by a growing number of colleges.

NMU’s geographic position is unique. We are “rurban,” bordering the line between rural and urban classification. While NMU’s soils may not be ripe for cultivation, innovative technologies (vertical farming, raised beds, etc.) provide models allowing for at least a semblance of sustainable food practice.A previous “Generation Why?” column’s focus proposed that NMU’s spaces are begging to be ecologically recreated. Administration’s “Master Plan” suggests that the Board of Directors feel similarly.

How these spaces transform are as important (maybe more) than what they become. If the shifts do not reflect progressive consciousness, students seeking a sustainable future may opt for colleges like Northland.

The “Green Initiatives” page of NMU’s website boasts that the college will become “a model community for sustainable education and practices” based on the “Road Map to 2015.”The jive here is that recycling bins and more efficient vending machines treat symptoms, not diseases.

Local food production translates to less trash between farm and plate.Signing the Good Food Charter would set a precedent in the Upper Peninsula.

NMU could put itself on the map as concerned with food security in an age where unsustainable food practices are the norm.Let’s set a goal: 20 percent locally produced food by 2020.

The Detroit Free Press’ future commentary on Marquette’s green standards will be authentic analyses, not public relations BS.Let the next decade’s wave of students decide if the “Fearless Minds” misnomer pertains to progressive food reform.