Minutes from Rotary Club of Ann Arbor’s Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023 Meeting, via zoom

Today’s pre-meeting zoom chatter ranged from talk of the gray weather here in Ann Arbor and Florida’s sunny skies to Barbara Niess-May’s goose-bump experience of being at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in person to hear Rafael Warnock and Bernice Albertine King speak on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Dawn Johnson helped all zoomers with getting us to order and muted in time for President Mark Ouimet to call our meeting to order. Tom Strode played our patriotic song and Judith Lynch-Sauer focused her welcoming inspiration to today’s speaker topic – four reasons to go to farmers’ markets. (Tempt your tastebuds. Go wild on varieties. Use fewer resources. Befriend a farmer.)

Richard Ingram shared a choral piece written by Bono, and sung by the 2006 Huron High School Choir, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Sleep, Sleep tonight.”

President Mark welcomed us all and asked for our help. We need your assistance to help run our weekly meetings – especially as we search for a new club executive administrator. Nothing is difficult, but not having enough help is difficult. Can you help by unfurling the flags by the podium? greeting your friends at the door? by being a mic runner? by taking attendance as people come into the Anderson room? Right now these tasks are being handled by a very small group of members. Please contact Dawn Johnson – either via the Ann Arbor Rotarian links, or directly via email at dawnlynn@umich.edu .

Happy Birthday to Bob Pierce, Carolina Typaldos, Lou Calloway, Ginny Green, and Norm Herbert. Happy 1st club anniversary to Ray Kelley!

Shelly MacMillan welcomed us to the 1st social gathering of 2023: Wine, Women, and Song (WWS). There will be a special, private show of WWS exclusively for Rotary members on Jan. 26. Six of our club members are performing! There are currently only 18 spaces available, so please act now to get your $40 ticket. 7 p.m. wine and visiting, then the show begins at 7:30 p.m. It’s fast-paced, fun, and sung as beautifully and poignantly as you will ever hear. Ends ~ 8:45. CALL TO RESERVE your space. You may pay by cash, check or credit card at the door.

Don Duquette invited each of us to participate in the Environmental Action group’s Feb. 3 and 4 Neighborhood Swap Meet. We can use your volunteer help on the 4th. The Bryant neighborhood swap meet is a fun, and important small step in changing our throw-away culture. Bring things to give and swap out something there that you want or need. See the email address for Crystal Stewart elsewhere in this newsletter. Crystal can sign you up for a volunteer spot.

Farm-to-Table Movement for Home Consumers
Dennis Powers introduced our speakers, Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff, principals in Argus Farm Stop (AFS), by noting that the farm-to-table movement is not only important in restaurants, but in our homes, and with our local farmers as well. We are fortunate in Ann Arbor to have not only farmers’ market, but Argus Farm Stop – our intermediary between farmers and eaters throughout the Ann Arbor area.

Bill Brinkerhoff began by thanking the club for the invitation to speak, and gave a hello to all the familiar faces on the zoom screen.

He explained that he and Kathy were at a chapter of their lives where they wanted to do something local. Local food was important to them as it helps create a community. They were at Wooster College where, by sheer serendipity, they discovered a Local Roots store. They loved the concept during their brief, visit that visitors to the store could connect with farmers. They came back to Ann Arbor with that idea and began AFS in 2014.

A bit of background
Local food is at risk. There is a mammoth disappearance of farms: from 1950-2012, the majority of farms in the county have disappeared – especially food-producing farms. Another urgent problem is that the average age of a farmer is 58 – and there are few in line to take over those farms. In next 5-10 years there will be a huge turnover of farm land. Survival rate for farms run by new farmers is ~50%.

The US food system features huge, non-local producers which comes from over 1,500 miles to reach our tables. The supply chain is vulnerable to climate change. In addition, over 99% of food is sold indirectly to consumers. That means we don’t know who the farmer is, where the product is farmed, and it doesn’t build community – neither here nor where it is produced.

Farmers make little money. Typically, farmers earn 15 cents of each food dollar we spend and the remaining 85 cents goes to the supply chain/market share: it takes lots of people to move the produce from farm to us.

What can we do to make it easier to support our local farms?
Farmers market: where you can meet the farmer, be educated about the products/produce, and where it builds community. Farmers’ markets are still a boutique experience in that it is available only one or two times a week – which means you have to be a good planner and/or a creative cook. Grocery stores are good, fast, one-stop shopping.

AFS combines both the farmers’market experience, with the grocery stores’ one-stop shopping. AFS connects consumers and food producers.

AFS is open year-round every day, and features exclusively local products. It provides sustainable margins to help farmers. Specifically, each farmer owns his/her own consignment and set its prices. AFS guarantees 70% of the proceeds, instead of the 15% as in grocery stores. The remaining 30% keeps AFS afloat. There is awareness of farmers. For example, each apple is identified with who grew it, and your receipt shows that too.

The AFS “experiment” has been successful. So much so, that it opened a second AFS on Packard (formerly Clague Market where President Mark used to deliver groceries). During covid, AFS’s nascent online business burgeoned. In 2022, the Packard AFS expanded to the vacant vacuum store next door. There is also a café.

AFS impact
AFS began in 2014 with 40 farms. Currently there are 100 farms. Shoppers have two to four choices of each item. That is, not just one farm’s carrots, but several farms. Bill and Kathy have demonstrated that this economic model enables farmers to make farming their full-time job. In 2022, 64 farms had over $10,000 in sales, most of them $50,000/year. 10 farms had over $100,000 in their annual sales. Bill and Kathy are proud of the hard-working and passionate staff – 60 across three stores. Their mission to serve community is reflected in the payout to local farms is now over $15M – important dollars which has stayed and been reinvested in our community.

1) A vibrant local food economy is crucial to a healthy, growing and involved community.
2) An industrial food system does have benefits, but pendulum has swung too far for local communities to benefit.
3) Large distant food producers pose a local risk to food availability
2) Innovative ideas are needed (and the UM is currently working on it) to raise awareness of local farms.
3) Locally sourced food is really delicious and nutritious.
4) AFS breakthrough economic 70/30 model.

Unanticipated benefits
1) How to funnel money from consumers to farmers.
2) At AFS, Community is being built around local food. It’s a place where producers connect with consumers. Farmers are Rock stars when they are in the house, and customers appreciate access to this quality any day of the week.
3) The AFS model is being copied around the country.

Argus Food Stop brings together as a tapestry three components – the local food producers and the farmers; caring customers; and compassionate staff – all are engaged together.

Other Comments
Bill and Kathy teach a course every other month about AFS and its business model.
Argus is named after the old Argus Camera Company where Bill’s father, Jim Brinkerhoff, was employed.

Next week our speaker is Jane Dutton, PHD on “Thriving in Organizations.”

President Mark closed the meeting with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “To forget to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Steffek Blaske
Robert Buchanan