Kalkaska Food Summit: ‘The Importance of Local’

Story by Maddy Baroli

The Kalkaska Food Summit took place on Wednesday, March 15 at the Kalkaska Stonehouse— a hub for community events on the grounds of the Kalkaska Memorial Health Center. The Livewell Kalkaska coalition, a group of public health professionals, organized the event in collaboration with the Food and Farming Network.

Last spring, several substantial grants were awarded with funding through the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. District Health Department #10 (DHD 10) received the funds and administered them to local organizations with ideas on how to enable healthy lifestyles in the community. The grant recipients’ work was notable, and Kalkaska’s first food summit was created to shine a spotlight on their efforts.


Donna Norkoli and Lacey Morris of DHD 10 opened the well-attended event with some stark facts about Kalkaska County: 15 percent of total residents and 23 percent of children are food insecure, and 50 percent of residents live in a census tract with no healthy food outlet. This is problematic, considering that residents themselves reported in a Kalkaska County Health Survey that they consider access to healthy foods the second-most important factor in defining a healthy community.

Luckily, some hard working community champions are trying to turn these numbers around. Here are the highlights from the four Michigan Health Endowment Fund grant recipients:

  • Heather Reust, of Kalkaska Middle School, is using the funds to purchase a greenhouse, plants, and gardening equipment for her students.
  • Jodi Willison, of the Kalkaska Commission on Aging, used the funds to purchase a Robot Coupe—a highly efficient food processor. Now they process up to 200 meals a day for home delivery, all featuring freshly cut produce.
  • Joanna Durfee, of the Kalkaska and Fife Lake Teen Health Corners, has been conducting taste tests of healthy recipes. She also purchased water refilling stations and provided every teen with a reusable water bottle to encourage hydration throughout the day.
  • Cathy Somes, of Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources, replaced 13 inefficient freezers with one large walk-in cooler that allows her to keep more fresh and frozen produce. Between 800 and 900 people utilize this pantry every month .

Two recipients of Building Healthy Communities funds (administered by the Michigan Department of Community Health) also shared their work:

  • Amy Britton, of the Kalkaska Memorial Health Center, reported that sales at the center’s cafe jumped by a third after using their grant money for the installation of a large, diverse salad bar. She sells anywhere from 70 to 85 salads a day.
  • Emily Alsip, of Northland Foods, has used BHC money to feature signs that highlight local products, in addition to hosting food demos and carrying Farm to Freezer produce.

The event concluded with a keynote address from Bill Jaynes, of Strawberry Fields Farm. Bill informed everyone of the potential hazards of eating food that has been grown with pesticides, and encouraged people to eat as local as possible. One way to make this easier is to preserve fresh, local foods in the summertime. Bill is a licensed canner and will be offering preservation classes this summer. When he asked the audience, “Am I gonna see you on my farm this year?” he was met with a resounding, “Yes!”

It was an honor to hear from these Kalkaska community champions, and we cannot wait to hear what develops next. In the meantime, Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources (KAIR) is looking for more funds so that they can open their doors to those in need twice a month. Please share this with anyone who may be interested in supporting them. KAIR can be contacted at kairkalkaska@gmail.com.


Keynote Speaker Bill Jaynes of Strawberry Fields Farms shares how he is improving access to healthy food.


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