Aug 18, 2011

Our Local Food Program to Expand In Kansas

by Mercedes Taylor-Puckett

Whiting, Ks.- The Kansas Rural Center was recently awarded a $70,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture to expand the Our Local Food (OLF) Program. This program seeks to spur the development of community-based food systems by creating regional networks of local farms, farmers markets, food businesses, agricultural professionals, supportive organizations and businesses, as well as consumers who are committed to increasing the production and sales of fresh, local foods in Kansas.

KRC’s OLF Program was launched in the Kaw River Valley in 2010. Counties comprising the Kaw River Valley Chapter include Atchison, Douglas, Geary, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Pottawatomie, Riley, Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Wyandotte. The program enrolled 54 charter members in its first year– 37 farms, 7 farmers markets and 10 food businesses. With funding from the 2011 Specialty Crop Block Grant from the KDA, two additional chapters are launching in 2011.
The South Central Chapter (OLF-SC) encompasses Butler, Cowley, Harper, Harvey, Kingman, Reno, Sedgwick, and Sumner counties. Natalie Fullerton has been named OLF-SC Chapter Coordinator. Kansas State Research and Extension (KSRE) Sedgwick County has joined as a collaborator and will sponsor a summer intern dedicated to local food system work.

The Twin Rivers Chapter (OLF-TR), under the coordination of Tracey Graham, covers Chase, Coffey, Greenwood, Lyon, Morris, and Osage counties. Building on the significant groundwork laid by the Emporia Area Local Food Network, such as the development of a community kitchen, the OLF-Twin River Chapter will expand to include broad representation from all aspects of its regional food system.

The chapter model was selected over a single statewide program because it is better able to address the opportunities and challenges of individual regions while fostering important community relationships.

Regional chapters are semi-autonomous but operate under OLF organizational structure which calls for each chapter to establish its own coordinator, steering and partner committees, and summer interns. Chapters will collaborate on overall Our Local Food Program efforts through the leadership of OLF Program Director Mercedes Taylor-Puckett.

The Our Local Food Program label will be modified to reflect the name of each region. The label can be used by members to identify and promote food grown in that region. For example, a farmer can print out cards with the chapter label that can be used as product price cards at farmers markets on those items that have been raised in that region. Program stickers could also be placed on products like pies or jelly, if the primary ingredient was grown in the region. A restaurant could use the label for a menu item when it designates the farm from which the primary ingredient was sourced. Regional OLF label shelf tags will enable retailers to highlight products from the area. This eye-catching label will assist consumers by providing a definition of local–within that region, making it easy to select choices that support local ag producers and the their regional economy.

The OLF website, launching in mid-May, will have information targeted to consumers, producers, food businesses and other groups such as economic development professionals. There will also be sections devoted to each chapter that offer a directory of farms, CSAs and farmers markets as well as food businesses that use or sell foods raised in each region. Chapter coordinators will also reach out to members and consumers through bi-weekly enewsletters to keep them up to date on events and opportunities, highlight seasonal products and profile members.

With assistance from KSU’s Dr. Rhonda Janke, chapters will develop preliminary food system reports this spring. (Visit KRC’s website to download Dr. Janke’s presentation from the November sustainable ag conference that covers the preliminary work on the food report she is creating for the Douglas County Food Policy Council: ) Coordinators will collect information on current agricultural production, processing and distribution capacity and gather statistics on what might be required to meet a portion of a region’s current consumption of various foods. The reports will also attempt to present a snapshot of the various channels local food currently moves through in each regional food system.

Farm Membership. The annual farm membership fee is $25. If specialty crops (defined by USDA as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture) are produced, farms are eligible for complementary 2011 OLF membership through the KDA grant. Farms that only produce non-specialty crops, such as meat, dairy, and grains are not eligible for support from the grant and must submit the $25 annual membership fee. Each chapter is seeking additional program support, which may reduce membership fees.
Farm members of the OLF program will receive a range of services and individualized support from their Chapter Coordinator and Interns:
  • Placement of farm name and profile on the OLF website;
  • Identification of sales opportunities with OLF markets, restaurants, and institutions who are committed to buying local;
  • Highlighting of farm events and activities in a bimonthly OLF chapter enewsletter that will be sent to interested consumers;
  • Feature stories about specific farms for the bimonthly OLF enewsletter;
  • Opportunities for farms to directly interact with consumers;
  • TV, radio, internet, and print media about OLF and its members.
Business Membership. The business membership fee, normally $100, is discounted 50% for OLF Charter Members. Charter Membership is $50. Business members are eligible to receive the following support from chapter staff:
  • Placement of business name and profile on the OLF website;
  • Identification of OLF farmers who are interested in providing businesses with local food and specialty crops;
  • Ways to highlight the presence of local foods and specialty crops on your shelves or in your menus;
  • Feature stories about specific businesses for the bimonthly OLF-KRV enewsletter;
  • Updates on business events and activities in the bimonthly OLF-KRV newsletter;
  • Design of opportunities for businesses to directly interact with both farms and consumers.
Program participation also entitles members to an OLF banner or window cling, and access to a tool kit with the electronic version of the OLF chapter logo, point of sale and other materials.

Those interested in joining in the Our Local Food Program are encouraged to contact the Chapter Coordinator for their region (See below) . Membership information and applications will be available by the end of March.
This project is supported in part by the USDA Specialty Crop Grant Program, through a sub-grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture, and by a grant by the USDA Risk Management Agency.

Kaw River Valley Chapter
Coordinator: Mercedes Taylor-Puckett

South Central Chapter
Coordinator: Natalie Fullerton

Twin Rivers Chapter
Coordinator: Tracey Graham

Meet Natalie Fullerton, OLF-South Central Chapter Coordinator

Natalie Fullerton grew up in northeast Nebraska where her work in the family garden was a great influence on her interests in food and agriculture today. After obtaining a B.S. in Horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she jumped into the Master’s program, where she worked as a graduate assistant through the Nebraska Rural Initiative. Her graduate project focused on the use of high tunnels in Nebraska, aiming to learn what resources producers needed to grow successfully in high tunnels.
The economics of being able to produce profitably while selling locally was a major focus of the project. Natalie worked with an agricultural economist at the university to help develop a set of budget sheets for producers wanting to manage the economics of growing in a high tunnel. Natalie’s Masters Program was enhanced with a minor in community and regional planning, which added to the valuable local food aspects in her program. In May 2010 she received her MS. in Public Horticulture Administration.
After graduating and following her husband to Wichita, she has taken great interest in getting sustainable agriculture into the households of producers and consumers. Natalie believes local food is an integral aspect in the future health of our economy in Kansas and nation wide. Natalie is excited to be an important part of local food movement in Kansas.
Meet Tracey Graham, OLF-Twin Rivers Chapter Coordinator

Tracey Graham has served on the board of the Emporia Area Local Food Network since its inception in Fall of 2008, and has worked with many other enthusiastic lovers of local foods to promote the production, processing, preservation, and consumption of local foods. Her involvement with the Emporia Farmers Market evolved from market shopper, to board member, then vendor, then market manager, then back to vendor, over the past eleven years.
Her love of great, fresh, local food made up for her lack of agricultural experience (she grew up in suburban Los Angeles) and lack of preparation provided by her formal training (Ph.D. in Geology, University of New Mexico, 1997) in seeking out and implementing programs and processes that positioned the Emporia Market to ride the wave of growing interest in local foods. Founded in 1982, Emporia's market has more than doubled its annual sales over the past 10 years. This winter's expansion to year-round has positioned the market for continued exponential growth.

Tracey also enjoys her part time position as Program Assistant for the Lyon County K-State Research and Extension Family Nutrition Program, teaching elementary school students about the benefits of healthy diets. She is also an active volunteer with Emporia Main Street and Lyon County Extension Master Gardeners.

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