A Double Up Michigan Partnership Improves Local Sourcing

In 2022, Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program partnered with Taste the Local Difference to take a closer look at ways of improving local sourcing for grocery stores in Detroit.

Taste the Local Difference has an expansive statewide network of relationships with Michigan’s farmers, farmers markets, and retail grocers. These connections are key to helping food retailers in places like Detroit and other participating locations across the state attain and maintain Double Up’s 20% local sourcing requirement during peak growing season.

Paul Green, Local Food Retail Specialist at Taste the Local Difference, led this work on behalf of Double Up Food Bucks. To start, Green partnered closely with the grocery store owners and managers to better understand existing produce supply chains and barriers for sourcing local produce. Over the first year of the project, he began to uncover common issues related to local sourcing in Detroit and identified why certain stores were more successful than others.

Green says, “For many store managers and owners, it’s the first time they’ve had support to look at their supply chains and develop new tools and strategies to source more local food. It’s often not an issue of retailers wanting to source more locally—there are so many barriers at play. It’s taken a year to get to a place where we understand the challenges they are facing and can truly talk about what’s possible.”

“Everybody wants this to work,” he continued. “Not a single person I’ve spoken to opposes the idea of local [sourcing]. They just don’t have the resources—whatever they might be—to really focus on this.”

What did Green learn so far?

It takes a lot of time to research ways to source local produce for grocery stores. It’s often time store owners or managers don’t have, especially when they are trying to keep their doors open. Green commented that when they’re able to find a local sourcing formula that works, they will move forward with it.

There are opportunities to build connections between the local food distribution system, suppliers, and grocery stores. Local grocery stores offer the produce available to them through their suppliers. If suppliers are not connected to local food distributors, it inherently limits access to such products.

Many grocery stores are getting more local foods than reported. Michigan-grown produce requires separate tracking. It is not always obvious what was grown locally when it arrives at the grocery store. In some cases, invoices identify if the produce supplied is local, but not always. This makes it difficult for retailers to report.

For grocery stores, sometimes it’s as simple as asking for what you need. Green recalled a visit to one food retailer: The manager called his distributor on the spot and asked for more locally sourced produce. The supplier immediately said yes. The food retailer began receiving a monthly report detailing the store’s Michigan produce purchases. In another instance, he learned that a general manager at a store in an under-resourced area regularly achieved the 20 percent goal by directing their produce buyer to prioritize locally sourced produce from July to November. Lastly, one of the distributors that Green spoke to said they implemented a new Michigan section in their weekly food order book to make it easier for grocery stores to identify local produce.

Grocery stores choose products based on what makes financial sense for them—especially when contending with high inflation rates or during challenging times like the COVID crisis. Store managers and owners do their best to reach the 20 percent local sourcing requirement, but they often don’t have time to research ways to source more local products, even when it can make financial sense.

And this is exactly where Green focused his efforts, connecting locally sourced food within Michigan’s farm-to-fork networks to retailers and, ultimately, consumers—to the benefit of all involved.

“Local food makes so much possible in Michigan,” Green stated. “There’s a lot of food being grown in Michigan to do a lot of feeding. When we can better connect the farmer to retailer to the consumer, we can alleviate a lot of challenges in the community. More dollars into the pockets of farmers, strong local economies, and more healthy food choices for Michigan families.”

Looking ahead, Fair Food Network and Taste the Local Difference aim to work with more distributors to prioritize locally grown produce in Michigan grocery stores. The supply-chain benefits of increased wholesale purchases of Michigan produce can lower prices for shoppers who are conscious of buying locally—especially those who use Double Up. And the distributors love selling Michigan produce—after all, they’re Michigan food businesses, too.

Local sourcing is a win for everyone—from growers to sellers to shoppers—that wants to support Michigan grown produce and make it more accessible to Double Up shoppers in places like Detroit and beyond.

“Double Up Food Bucks continues to be a win for families, farmers, and local economies,” said Cassidy Strome, Acting Director for Double Up Food Bucks in Michigan. “Now more than ever, we see and hear how impactful Double Up is as more families utilize the program across the state. The need for affordable food that nourishes the body and soul continues to grow, and our partnerships with food advocates, the community, and funders are critical to Double Up’s success.”

Double Up Food Bucks is a nutrition incentive program that aims to increase fruit and vegetable purchasing among people who use SNAP as part of their monthly food budget. The program is funded by the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), a grant program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with funds appropriated by the 2018 Farm Bill. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is firmly committed to creating marketing opportunities for Michigan fruit and vegetable growers and provides some of the matching funding for Double Up in Michigan.


Related Story: Detroit Grocer Improves Local Sourcing

“A lot of customers think there’s a catch. We try to explain that there isn’t. We’re just trying to get fresher food on their tables.” Learn how store owner Jonathan Morad improved local sourcing at Detroit’s Garden Fresh Marketplace with the help of Double Up Food Bucks.



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