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Local food efforts growing

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Montgomery County Food Summit to learn about the local foods effort in our area. It was a great opportunity to network and talk to others about local foods and the benefits to our community.

Eating locally grown food is not totally new. However, in recent years, there has been a greater push and more emphasis on buying locally to support the community; this effort includes foods grown and raised in our communities.

Getting the local foods effort up and running is challenging but rewarding in many ways. There is a lot of communication and partnering that has to take place for the local foods efforts to be successful.

You need a producer who is willing to take the risk and invest in growing or raising the food. For instance, if a farmer wants to grow lettuce year round, it takes a significant investment in a hoop house and the material necessary to grow through the winter.

Then you need a market. If consumers aren’t making the commitment to purchase locally grown produce, then the grower has no market.

The rewards include economic development, food that tastes better and is fresher, you know where your food is being produced and how, and many other positive benefits.

Local foods is also about getting our youth involved in gardening and growing in order for them to understand where their food comes from and to encourage healthy eating habits.

There were speakers from schools who were very successful in farm and food programs sharing their inspiring stories.

The local foods effort is about growing the economy. If a community can create these partnerships and encourage people to buy locally, then the money stays in the community. In addition, as business grows, more jobs are added.

Ohio State University Extension is at the table and helping to lead the local foods effort. As one of our Signature Programs, local foods is about bringing stakeholders together and working through the barriers that prevent people from purchasing local.

One of my favorite stories is about a school district up north. When they met to discuss the barriers to the school buying local produce, it was discovered that a simple change of wording in the contract allowed the school system to purchase locally.

The old contract stated “Idaho” potatoes and “iceberg” lettuce. We don’t grow these in Ohio; therefore, when they changed the contract to reflect the varieties grown in Ohio, the school began to purchase these items from local growers.

At the summit, they challenged all of us to commit to spending at least 10 percent of our grocery bill locally. I took that challenge.

I am pulling together stakeholders in Clark County this month to discuss the potential for a local foods initiative in our area. It’s essential to start like this to discuss barriers and possibilities and how to break those barriers to make it work.

If you are interested in a similar effort in your community, contact your local Extension office to help put you in touch with the people who can get you started.

I could go on and on about the inspiring presenters at the summit. Anyone who has their own garden knows that growing isn’t always easy. I encourage you to help out any local growers and purchase their goods.

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