Many economists and politicians have sought ways to reverse the slumping Michigan economy. The answer, says Livonia resident Lisa Diggs, is in your shopping bag.

Brian Merlos
Art and Design juniors Emily Cromwell and Hind Abdul-Jabbar make and sell corn tortillas and cortido, an El Salvadorian coleslaw, at the School of Art and Design yesterday. The food was made from local organic ingredients. (JEREMY CHO/Daily)

In her travels across the United States, Livonia resident Lisa Diggs noticed that many thriving states have benefited from a strong agricultural base. She realized that a resurgence in dedication to agriculture could help revitalize Michigan’s economy.

Determined to turn Michigan around, Diggs started buymichigannow.com last month in an effort to push Michigan residents to purchase locally-grown products, including produce. Diggs said supporting local farms and businesses will be the key to stimulating the state’s struggling economy.

That could mean something as small as making an effort to buy Michigan apples in the fall or Michigan cherries and strawberries in the summer.

“No one really thinks about it,” Diggs said. “We need to look in the mirror to see what we can do for this state.”

One of the website’s slogans is “Think Michigan First,” encouraging consumers to turn to local businesses instead of national chains. Diggs said it’s not just small Michigan-based businesses and farmers that need support.

“Even Meijer, which is based in Grand Rapids, could be in trouble if Michigan residents choose nationally-based stores like Walgreens,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, students in the School of Art and Design have used their classwork as a chance to show their support for locally grown food. A class called “Food from Farming to Feasts” offered through the School of Art and Design hosted a weeklong event where they showed the benefits of Michigan foods. Students sold dishes including organic Michigan produce for five dollars a bowl to students and faculty members outside the Slusser Gallery of the Art & Architecture Building on North Campus. The proceeds will be used to fund Tappan Middle School’s Garden Project.

The course, which fulfilled the Art School’s outreach and engagement requirement, involved field work.

“We’ve been to country farms and farmer’s markets gathering the ingredients for the food,” said Art and Design junior Emily Cromwell.

According to Art and Design junior Hind Abdul-Jabbar, “Even the flour we used to make the bread was organic.”

Art and Design Prof. Nick Tobier, the course’s instructor, said the course’s goal is to combine food and art drawn from the society around them to show the importance of organically grown foods and provide the chance for healthier options.

“Hopefully this will build into something communal,” he said.

Visitors to Diggs’ website can sign a pledge showing their support for local businesses and products. Pledges are made by providing the website with a name, city, and state so organizers can gauge how many people are actively determined to change Michigan’s economy and where those people live

Diggs said she hopes 5,000 people will sign the pledge by the end of the year. More than 600 people have signed the pledge to date. After that, Diggs hopes to start a program to teach high school students how to better manage their finances in order to keep the economy on the rise for the future. She said she wants to help local businesses sell and promote their products outside of Michigan and attract more customers to the state.

One major target of Diggs’s campaign is university students, who she said have as much at stake with regard to Michigan’s economy than anyone. She urges students to mention the website on their Facebook and MySpace pages to spread the group’s message.

“This is a tough time to come out of college,” she said. “Getting a job is really hard in this economy.”

Tobier said he himself shows his support for Michigan products, calling himself a “locavore” – one who buys food harvested from a local area. Although Tobier said he hadn’t yet heard of Diggs’s campaign, he said it interested him.

“I like to do everything locally,” he said. “The more we stay in the area, the better the economy.”

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