You may have heard by now that food carts are all the buzz in some cities across the country. The one that probably takes the cake is Portland, OR, with over 500 scattered throughout the city. But a little bit of this craze is coming to Michigan and for good reason.
Mark’s Carts was the first true stationary “food cart pod” (a grouping of food carts) in Michigan, opening two years ago in Ann Arbor. With eight individually owned food carts serving a diverse array of food from early spring to late fall, it has proven to be a magnet for townies, the business community, and students who want to enjoy delicious local food and an informal outdoor communal seating experience.
But it’s not just about the food! Well, okay, it’s mostly about the food -- but it’s so much more. For the guests, it’s the whole experience of trying different foods in a casual outdoor setting with an opportunity for spontaneous social interactions. For the vendors, it is an affordable entry into the food business which can be an incubator to try out new recipes and marketing strategies and to develop a loyal following before they move on to a more permanent establishment.
That is exactly what happened to one very successful food cart called The Lunch Room. They tried out different fares on their vegan menu over the course of two years, ( while occasionally providing some musical offerings and food tasting contests as well). Among the favorites: barbecue tofu sandwiches, Pad Tai and their hard to resist cookies. Building on their success, they plan to open a more permanent restaurant in the Kerrytown area, one of the most vibrant gathering places in Ann Arbor.
It is just this sort of organic entrepreneurial creativity that not only positively impacts the local economy, but contributes to a community's unique identity and vibrancy, and emotionally connects people to their place!
Colleen Layton is Director of Policy Development for the Michigan Municipal League. She can be reached at 734.669.6320 or by email@example.com.
October 28, the League hosted - with generous sponsorship from the MDEQ Office of Environmental Assistance - approximately 60 leaders from state and local government and non-profit organizations in Lansing for the 2nd Michigan Green Communities conference. As with the first Green Communities conference in 2010, the focus was on sharing local solutions for environmental sustainability. We were once again blown away by the enthusiasm of people working on these issues as well as by the quality of the local projects discussed. There were a couple notable changes from the first conference, however.
The first difference was the list of topics covered has grown more diverse. Presenters educated their peers on a range of issues, including:
- Economic Gardening
- Global Economic Competitiveness
- Local Food Networks
- Water Conservation and Management
- Curbside Recycling
- Joint Planning Commissions
- Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing
- Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
- Complete Streets
Videos and slides from the presenters, as well as notes from the discussion groups, are now available at http://www.mml.org/resources/educenter/2011-green_communities_conference.html.
The other major change from 2010 is that the network of Green Communities in Michigan is larger and stronger. We have a new email newsletter and will continue our series of monthly conference calls. Also in 2012 we are expanding our partnerships with the state-funded Energy Demonstration Centers, which will include regional workshops and training sessions. If you're not already on our email list, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And please continue to share your thoughts on how to help community leaders across the state connect and learn from one another.
Luke Forrest is a Project Coordinator with the Michigan Municipal League. Contact him at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/l4est or 734-669-6323.
Governor Granholm signed two new bills meant to "free Michigan's cottage food industry from unnecessary regulation," according to an AnnArbor.com report. You used to be required to have a Michigan Department of Agriculture-certified kitchen to sell or distribute homemade food. The legislation allows cottage industries that gross less than $15,000 a year to cook, package, and sell "non-potentially hazardous foods" made at home - including things like breads, pies, jams, herbs, and coffee. The MI Senate is still deciding on the fate of syrup.
It's a win for the growing local food movement, which argues that increasing local food production and consumption can create more environmentally and economically sustainable communities. However, the move to allow more cottage industry is also supporting and encouraging more entrepreneurship.
Ypsilanti Farmers' Market manager Ryan Stedman told AnnArbor.com that "she is regularly approached by people wanting to sell foods at the market," but had to tell them they couldn't do it unless they had a certified kitchen. "They had to be licensed and that takes time and money and knowing what the laws are, and that can be daunting. This removes barriers for lots of people looking to join the local food movement and supplement their income," she says, as reported in the article.
The Detroit Free Press also covered the story, and you can find another post about it on Ypsilanti blog www.markmaynard.com
Jennifer Eberbach is a professional journalist and writer. Find contact information on her website www.jenthewriter.info