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Michael W. Hamm


Michigan Good Food

Natural Resources Building
480 Wilson Road, Room 312
East Lansing, Michigan 48824
Michael W. Hamm, director of the MSU Center for Regional Food System, and his staff are devoted to the good health and development of all Michigan youth. The center’s creative programs and initiatives, like Michigan Good Food and Hoophouses for Health, are helping to ensure that more children have balanced, produce-rich diets. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
MSU Center for Regional Food Systems Director Michael W. Hamm: Being a leader is about having a vision, setting a tone, and listening. Being a leader is not just about leading, but about following, being respectful of what others have to say and incorporating that into your thought processes and your actions. I rarely say no to an idea.
It is a leader’s responsibility to help develop those ideas more fully, to flesh them out, and to help move them forward. For example, I’ve had ideas that were developed around institutional markets. The W.K. Kellogg foundation recently funded an idea that I generated to provide farmers with loans to put up hoop houses where they grow produce during the winter without the use of fossil fuel energy. The farmers do not repay these loans with cash; they repay them by working with partners such as Head Start organizations to give their produce to patrons, farmers’ markets, and more.
My dream for kids is that they all live in environments where they can reach their potential with access to healthy food on a daily basis.

What is your dream for kids?
My dream for kids is that they all live in environments where they can reach their potential with access to healthy food on a daily basis. My dream is that all kids can be physically active every single day without fear for their safety, and that they receive good educations so that they can see positive options for their futures.
We know that kids are poorly nourished have a more difficult time in school. We also know that high calorie foods are generally cheaper than nutrient-dense foods. That contributes to high obesity rates, which, in turn, affects kids’ future health outcomes.
What is the one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
As a society, I think we need to recognize that there are basic needs that everyone should be guaranteed. One of those basic needs is easy access to the foods that will allow people to have a healthy daily diet.
More of the philanthropic world should see food and the food system as a way to achieve their missions. Food is often times not included in their mission statements, even though, in many ways, it can be a vehicle to achieve their missions.
How do you know you’re making progress?
There are two ways that we know we are making progress. One gauge is the increasing number of faculty members now participating in research and outreach in this area; there is a lot of interest among the faculty in this work, and the Center for Regional Food Systems provides one way for them to become more engaged. The center was created as an organization to ban boundaries between the faculty and staff at MSU (and everyone outside the university) and to engage them in regional work that is focused on improving the sustainability and equity within the food system. 
The center is also a conduit for those outside the university interested in food-related issues – like nonprofits and community groups – to find the right vehicle to help meet their food-related needs. Needs such as developing farmers markets, food hubs, or community gardens. Because of that, we are seeing increasing access by all Michigan residents to good food.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud that Michigan State University is supportive of the ideas that the center is organized around and the degree
More of the philanthropic world should see food and the food system as a way to achieve their missions.
to which the Michigan Good Food Charter has been endorsed by a broad range of organizations: governmental, educational, agricultural, and heath organizations among them.
I’m incredibly proud and respectful of the center’s staff and the work they do in a wide range of areas related to food equity and sustainability. All of them are involved in advertising around the charter. They help develop and participate in outreach programs to make people aware of this issue, with work that includes, but isn’t limited to, attending conferences, conducting speaking engagements, sending email blasts, and distributing brochures.
What perceptions, misconceptions and historical influences create significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable youth get the good nourishment that they need for healthy daily diets?
My sense is that Michigan is a fairly segregated state, and that creates impediments to solving the problems we have providing access to healthy food for children.
Historically, we were relatively high-income state because of the abundance of good-paying jobs in the auto industry, but we have had a hard time transitioning into a newer culture that provides opportunities across the spectrum of our population. We have a very diverse agriculture, but, historically, the production has been for export and for processing.
It is taking time for us to recognize the opportunities within our own regions. You have to have the supply before children can have access to healthy food, in ways like easy access to grocery stores. All of this begins with agriculture.
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Program Profile


  • MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
    To engage the people of Michigan, the United States and the world in applied research, education and outreach to develop regionally integrated, sustainable food systems.


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