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Lake County leaders draw inspiration from Kalamazoo wellness partnership

Ryan Pagelow / rpagelow@scn1.com The Prairie Crossing Learning Farm in Grayslake has fresh, certified organic eggs for sale. The farm's 250 hens lay about 130 to 150 eggs a day in hues of brown, tan, white and even green. Students and volunteers collect, wash and package the eggs. 01/05/10
Mike Collins of Kalamazoo Valley Community College speaks about a public-private partnership at the Lake County Leadership Breakfast in Highland Park Nov. 15. | Karen Berkowitz-Sun-Times Media

Leaders from across Lake County gathered Friday to learn how a novel partnership in Kalamazoo, Mich., is working to create a hub of training opportunities around the synergy between wellness and locally-grown food.

In Kalamazoo, a collaboration between a leading healthcare organization and the local community college promises to bring a ripple of benefits to western Michigan. Sponsors of the inaugural Lake County Leadership Breakfast hoped lessons from Kalamazoo would spark ongoing dialogue about using public and private partnerships to stimulate economic growth in Lake County.

“These conversations will focus on growing this critical regional partnership, all while keeping an eye on improving the provision of human services,” said Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering at the start of the event at the Highland Park Country Club. The event drew about 100 people from healthcare, education, business, government and the nonprofit sector.

Bronson Healthcare’s partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Community College goes far beyond the usual link between a healthcare institution and a community college that trains students in health occupations.

Bronson Healthcare set out to become a catalyst for “community health” in the broadest sense of the term.

“The way we view community health is not just physical, but economic health,” said Mike Way, senior vice president of Bronson Healthcare, a network of hospitals, clinics and healthcare providers in western Michigan.

Bronson is collaborating with the Kalamazoo Valley Community College on a new $42 million Healthy Living campus that taps into the movement toward locally-grown food in conjunction with training programs in culinary arts and health fields.

“We are interested in training, not necessarily high-end chefs, but people who would work in institutional settings such as campuses, schools, nursing homes and be part of this new method for delivering and serving food,” said Mike Collins, executive vice president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Construction is set to begin in early 2014 and take about 18 months.

The campus will include a food production facility that uses both traditional growing and technologically advanced methods of food production.

“People want to know who grew their food, where it came from and how did it get here,” Collins said. “People we speak with seem more interested in locally-grown foods, as opposed to the organic movement.”

Bronson Healthcare now purchases about 30 percent of its food from local and regional sources, and expects to reach 60 to 70 percent once the food production facility is up and running.

A third partner is Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The campus also will include a new Western Michigan University Medical School financed through a $100 million, philanthropic donation.

The Lake County Leadership Breakfast was sponsored by former State Sen. Susan Garrett and the Garrett Family Foundation; the Lake County Community Foundation, and the city of Highland Park.

Rotering said the idea for the breakfast came from a discussion last spring of a Regional Prosperity study conducted by consultant Linda Fowler in conjunction with the Lake County Community Foundation.

“What struck me throughout the meeting was the incredible opportunity for collaboration across our county’s leadership … to join together and focus on the use of economic development opportunities to address our region’s human services needs,” Rotering said.

Future breakfasts and workshops may focus on logistics, housing, transportation, marketing, culture, entrepreneurism and natural resources, among other topics.

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