The Michigan Land Use Institute is proud to announce that two of the first 50 FoodCorps  Service Members nationwide are hard at work right here in northwest Lower Michigan. Daniel Marbury and Kirsten Gerbatsch are helping a pilot group of schools here to purchase and serve healthy, locally grown food; build school garden programs; and connect education to nutrition, healthy eating, and a celebration of local farms. MLUI is the official service site for Daniel and Kirsten, who will be in our region for an entire year. As you’ll learn from their occasional blogs, they and MLUI have strong partner organizations in this nationwide pilot, including MSU Extension, SEEDS, and the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design. In their first blogs, Daniel and Kirsten talk about their responsibilities and share a bit about who they are. Please welcome them, and stay tuned for more of their reports on Good Food in our Schools!
Today, we hear from Daniel.
In a couple of days we’ll post Kirsten’s blog.
Welcome to Northern Michigan, and thank you for your inspiring work!
As the FoodCorps Service Member at the Michigan Land Use Institute, I am working with school administrations and food service staff to overcome barriers to serving more fresh and local food at Frankfort Elementary, Platte River Elementary, Interlochen Community School, Sutton’s Bay Elementary, Northport Public School, and Central Lake Elementary.
I will work with students, teachers, and parents to incorporate food and nutrition education into the learning experience. This will include everything from fun food tastings in the cafeteria to farm field trips, to school fundraisers of local farm products, and even a vegetable instrument orchestra or two! On a personal level, I feel that I have been blessed with a meaningful opportunity to devote myself to the cause of promoting environmental and human health by improving the quality of the food that nourishes the bodies and minds of the children who are the hope for our future. I will use every ounce of my creativity and all of my commitment to environmental balance and wellness in growing the dream of a healthy world through a new awareness of the seeds we sow and eat.
The program I’m a part of is already receiving national attention. My assignment here in Northern Michigan was recently featured  by Grist.
I am a southern boy by residence, growing up north of Atlanta, Georgia in a town called Alpharetta, but my parents Cathy and Robert are both Yankees from Pittsburgh. As the rock-loving geologist types they are, Mom and Dad raised me to always treasure beauty in nature. I am forever grateful to them for taking me to visit a number of National Parks around the country and, because of their influence I have come to consider the great American outdoors as much a home as any other place that I know. It is this nature-loving strand that has brought me to FoodCorps by way of a winding path.
I began my studies at the University of Alabama as a music major and in the course of study added a degree in political science, but I still don’t think I know as much about either of them as Bob Dylan. To make a long story short, I was not satisfied to watch the hours fly by practicing clarinet, piano, or bass alone in a closet of a room without the commitment or aspiration to become a professional performer. I made a friend who was interested in starting a drum circle, and weekend after weekend together we carried our drums around the quad and found great joy in making music with different people of all levels of skill and experience. The bond and instant communication facilitated by these impromptu musical experiences pushed me to ponder questions of effective leadership and organizational theory that could help collaborative organizations succeed. And that is how I added political science to my course of study despite my grade school distaste for politics and history.
Last year I served as an Americorps VISTA with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development. I developed a search engine for community development grants to assist Alabama nonprofits, authored a few grant proposals, and helped develop Internet communications as a resource for our nonprofit partners. One of the highlights of my work experience was assisting in the festival planning, music, and graphic design for the Pepper Jelly Festival in the small town of Thomaston, Alabama. Working in rural Alabama, I was struck by the widening gap between our human communities, the land, and the means of production for the food that sustains us. Thomaston is surrounded by historic farmland and lies in the middle of an area in Alabama known as the Black Belt for it’s fertile soil, yet it lacks entrepreneurship and investment to generate a local food economy. The town is in the middle of a large rural area which is classified a USDA food desert, meaning it is a low-income census tract in which many residents live more than 10 miles from the nearest grocery store.
Some parts of Alabama are on the verge of a healthy, local food revolution, yet the state is surely lagging behind the innovation and progress that is taking off across the world and in America. In Michigan, I see an organized vanguard of innovators and supporters with an abundance of energy and new ideas that are building the model of a more secure and durable good food future. I am excited to learn from the pioneers and those engaged in best practices and I’m incredibly grateful to work under the guidance and support of Diane Conners who has been a champion for Farm to School efforts in Northwest Michigan for many years.
Daniel Marbury can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org  or by calling 231-941-6584 X-30.