ARC pushes local food initiative

Thomas Wells | Daily Journal ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl discusses the importance of supporting your local famers and buying local produce during a press conference held Thursday at the Tupelo Famers Market. 

Thomas Wells | Daily Journal
ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl discusses the importance of supporting your local famers and buying local produce during a press conference held Thursday at the Tupelo Famers Market.

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Local food can mean better health, better taste, lower costs and new economic opportunities for rural communities.

Appalachian Regional Commission’s local food initiative promotes those values in its 13-state region, including 22 counties of Northeast Mississippi, through such diverse means as farmers’ markets, canning kitchens and programs that connect farmers with schools, prisons and high-end restaurants.

ARC officials brought that initiative to the Tupelo Farmers’ Market on Thursday and later hosted a roundtable discussion of people from farmers and restaurateurs to researchers and educators before seeing Vardaman’s sweet potato industry and the farmers’ market in Bruce.

“Local food is an emerging market, a growing market,” said Earl Gohl, ARC federal co-chairman. “We’re in the business of growing jobs. It’s not a new Toyota plant, but it is expansion for a lot of growers, a lot of sellers.”

The goals of the local food tour are threefold, says www.arc.gov – to “highlight the economic opportunity being created by local foods systems, identify barriers that have been overcome or that remain in building local food systems (and) determine what can be done in partnership that can’t be done separately.”

Guy Land, ARC chief of staff, said, “There’s an awful lot of energy and opportunity in (local food in) Mississippi, but there’s a lot of fragmentation in linking growers and markets together in ways that make sense.”

Educating the public on both the health and economic benefits of local food economies will be a starting point in some communities, he added.

At the roundtable discussion, a consensus developed that farmers too big to sell entire crops at farmers’ markets but too small to deal directly with most institutions or companies need ways to market cooperatively.

Several other issues rose to the top:

• Many farmers’ markets inability to accommodate EBT cards

• Public lack of knowledge about the connection between food and farms

• Local officials’ lack of understanding of local food’s economic potential

• Lack of networking among food-growing farmers and

• Lack of USDA-inspected slaughterhouses to facilitate sale of local meats.

ARC and the EPA are promoting local food systems this year with a grant program of $200,000 in technical assistance and implementation for four ARC communities. Preference will be given to those in the early stages of developing local food systems. (For information on the competitive grants, visit www.arc.gov/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=390.)

errol.castens@journalinc.com