There’s just something about rural agriculture and supporting local farmers that inspires Ann Dougherty.
Seven years ago, Dougherty wanted to go on a culinary adventure and she was determined to take others along for the ride.
She founded the company Learn Great Foods, and now leads culinary and food tours in 10 Midwestern regions, including Petoskey.
“I have started tours a lot of places over the years, but no place is and was easier to get started than Petoskey,” Dougherty said. “It’s really amazing, but we have a group of people up here and everyone has the same idea. We just all kind of work together and on our own to promote this whole concept of eating locally and supporting local agriculture.”
Dougherty calls it, “farm to fork.” Others call it “farm to table.” No matter what you want to call it, there’s a food movement happening right here in Northern Michigan.
Dougherty designs her Petoskey area culinary tours around what her customers want. From visiting a local bison farm, to cooking meals with top chefs from the area, to even learning about compost, there is no topic that is off limits.
“The farmers aren’t always, and I’m not necessarily making money, but what we’re doing is bringing a lot of people to see a lot of local farms and how they work. These people then spend money on products at the farm, and they then go out and visit local shops and restaurants and spend more money, and meet people,” Dougherty explained. “It just creates a connection for people on where their food comes from and creates this network. It also sets this area up for our future.”
Dougherty isn’t alone on her quest for educating people about the benefits of eating locally.
She shares a downtown Petoskey office with Toril Fisher, executive director of Farming for our Future.
The nonprofit organization which is based at Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs, not only connects people with their food and where it is grown, but also how it affects their personal health and the health of their community.
“We have the opportunity to vote with our forks three times a day. Eating locally means more for the local economy,” Fisher said. “Local food also translates into an equation that helps the environment with less food miles and fewer chemicals to make food more shelf stable.”
Fisher believes that despite Michigan’s sluggish economy, the state is poised to be a food destination with its abundance of rich soils, water resources and favorable growing climate.
“Currently, eating local seems to be viewed as a trendy movement which is reserved for those who can afford it,” Fisher explained “As gas prices rise and people feel that pinch in their wallet, making tough choices with regards to how to budget your household expenses can be one in which purchasing fresh produce or locally produced milk is just not an option. We need to continue to review local, state and federal policies on how to offer local food programs to those with less.”
In recent years, eating locally and supporting local agriculture has spilled over from home kitchens to local restaurants and classroom settings.
Eight years ago, Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey began offering cooking courses led by area chefs.
Classes are now offered in both the spring and the fall, and participants learn about local ingredients, recipes and techniques.
“As food is now a main topic of conversation for so many people, we believe our classes helped foster local interest,” said Liz Ahrens, executive director of Crooked Tree Arts Center. “In such a small setting, the class really learns from the hands of local chefs and gets to know chefs outside a restaurant.”
Julie Adams, co-owner of Julienne Tomatoes in Petoskey, has led several of those cooking classes.
Since Adams and Tom Sheffler opened Julienne Tomatoes in Petoskey eight years ago, they have made a point to utilize as many local vendors as possible.
“I feel that people make a connection between products and people, and when customers come into my store, I want them to know that they are supporting others in our community,” Adams said. “That’s what community is — identifying with people and making a connection between people and the food. And when that happens, we all benefit.”