Farm and food councils across the state are taking steps to benefit farmers, consumers and everyone in between, Allen County Farm Bureau members were told Friday.
Missty Lechner, advocacy project director for the American Heart Association, was among the founders of the Kansas Alliance for Wellness in 2013.
Lechner, guest speaker at Fridays ACFB annual meeting, talked about a rapidly expanding campaign to improve access to healthy and locally grown foods.
Since then, the Alliance has worked with dozens of local governing bodies across the state, including Allen County, to form local farm and food councils. Thirty-three such councils have been formed, including one in Allen County, with nine more in development.
Here, the effort led to the creation in 2014 of GROW (Growing Rural Opportunities Works), which has helped expand farmers markets across the county; worked in league with the opening of G&W Foods in Iola and creation of the Marmaton Market in Moran; and spearheaded efforts for a Double-Up Bucks campaign.
THE KANSAS Alliance for Wellness came upon an early epiphany when discussing food access, Lechner noted.
If we try to make sure everyone has access to healthy food, while also not focusing on production, were missing the mark, she said.
That includes involving farmers, distributors and those who sell the food with the food councils, Lechner noted.
She touched on the different ways the councils have flourished across the state.
For example, Douglas County, which has the oldest food council in Kansas, is spearheading development of a food hub for northeast Kansas, in which multiple producers can pool their harvests for institutions, such as hospitals, school districts or colleges.
If one farmer harvests 5 gallons of green beans, its not enough to market, Lechner noted. But if 20 or 40 small-scale farmers each do the same, they can take it to a food hub to clean, aggregate and distribute to places like hospitals or schools. It provides a level of risk management for the larger institutions to comfortably buy locally grown food.
Jefferson County is pursuing a tiny house ordinance, where local governing bodies allow construction of small houses for seasonal workers to live during harvest.
Crawford County is working a land bank policy, where vacant or derelict properties are made available for small-scale farmers to use as a means to learn about food production. Such a practice also relieves local governing agencies of the responsibility of maintaining the empty properties.
Hodgeman Countys council has reached an agreement with a local grocery store and Amazon.com, through which local customers can order and purchase food online, then pick up their orders at the store. Its much more convenient for the customers, and the store gets the money, Lechner said.
Sedgwick County, like Allen County, has started the Double-Up Bucks program, where low-income residents are allowed to double their purchases for the same amount of money, provided they buy locally produced fruits and vegetables. The Double-Up Bucks can be spent at local farmers markets, at Moons Hometown Market in Humboldt, and eventually the Marmaton Market in Moran.