The Kansas Rural Center organized a local foods seminar on March 25 for the new Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman, Deputy Secretary Chris Wilson and staff from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Also in attendance was USDA Farm Service Agency Director Adrian Polanski, USDA Rural Development Director Patty Clark, Greg Pinichello State director of the Kansas Small Business Development Centers, the director of the Beginning Farmer Loan Program and Donn Teske, Kansas Farmers Union President.
The purpose of the seminar was to update these leaders on the opportunities and barriers to expanding local food production in Kansas.
The hope was that the Kansas Department of Agriculture would consider designating a 'Local Foods Coordinator' and develop a local foods advisory council to assist with the development of a Kansas' Local Food and Farm Plan.
Dr. Rhonda Janke, Kansas State University, started the discussion by detailing the production and consumption of local foods in Kansas. Kansans spend $767 million a year on fruits and vegetables but only $32 million (4 percent) of that is grown locally.
Overall, the USDA estimates that an average Kansan spends $2,577 on food annually. That gives us a total of $7.5 Billion spent annually on food by 2.9 million Kansans. Right now there is not comparable data on the dollars spent by Kansans for local meats or local dairy products.
Historically, Kansas had 109,708 farms selling vegetables in 1920 but only 473 in 2007. Kansas had over 140,000 acres in produce in 1910 whereas in 2007 there are only 6,700 acres in vegetables and fruits. Dr. Janke's research shows that it would take just 77,000 acres in Kansas to grow 100 percent of the major vegetables and fruits. Kansas has millions of acres in wheat, corn, soybeans and milo.
Rita York, general manager of The Community Mercantile in Lawrence, gave an overview of the successes and challenges The MERC has faced since it's beginning in 1974. The MERC is the largest natural foods co-op super- market in Kansas. Sales were over $12 million in 2010 with an average of 10,500 customers weekly. The MERC has over 5,200 member owners.
78 percent of the eggs sold at the MERC come from 11 farms. The MERC works with 30 local produce growers but only 8 percent of the MERC's produce is locally sourced. The MERC is working on plans to scale up their purchase of more local foods.
Diana Endicott is the founder and manager of Good Natured Family Farms - an alliance of 100 farms in Kansas and Missouri that sell at the Hen House supermarkets and the Balls Price Chopper supermarkets in Kansas City as well as The MERC in Lawrence.
Sales will top $5 million this year. Their local foods include beef, pork, eggs, cheese, honey, bison, heritage turkeys and produce. By offering a wide variety of local products, they have more leverage in the market and more acceptance by supermarkets. Diana has a federally inspected meat processing plant at Uniontown, Ks. that now processes poultry in addition to the red meats. www.goodnatured.net
Mercedes Taylor-Puckett from the Kansas Rural Center gave an update on farmers markets in Kansas. Kansas now has over 102 farmers markets. By the end of this year, 19 of these farmers markets will have electronic benefit transfer (EBT) capabilities to accept the Vision Card (electronic food stamps).
In 2010, over $29,000 in Vision Card transactions were processed at 13 farmers markets. In 2011, over $500 million in food stamps will be received by 275,000 Kansas' residents. Helping gardeners to scale up production is a major challenge for farmers markets and meeting the growing consumer demand for local produce will take a statewide plan. www.ksfarmersmarkets.org.
The final presenter was the General Manager of the Kansas Organic Producers (KOP), Ed Reznicek. Started in 1974, KOP is a marketing/bargaining cooperative that markets organic grains and other products for about 60 active members from Kansas and bordering states.
The grains include wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, millet, barley, oats as well as alfalfa, clover and other forages. KOP is in the process of purchasing a soybean processing facility in Dubois, Neb. KOP is also a partner in the owner- ship of Central Soy Foods in Lawrence, Ks., which produces tofu, tempeh and soymilk from organic soybeans. KOP sees new opportunities in supplying organic feed for egg production, forage based dairies and soy foods.
There was also discussion of the remaining 58 state inspected meat processing plants in Kansas and their future role in meeting the consumer demand for local, natural meats. While Kansas has 65,531 farms, only 4,326 principal operators (7 percent) are under age 35. 21,062 principal operators (32 percent) are over age 65. The average age of the Kansas' farmer is 57. As some of the older farmers retire, the Beginning Farmer Loan Program could provide one opportunity for beginning farmers.
Market gardening is one option for beginning farmers to start with smaller acreage. Pastured pork and poultry is one other option for beginning farmers getting started and meeting a growing consumer market demand.
Kansas needs a specific 'local food and farm plan' to identify our existing resources at USDA, K-State Research & Extension, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Small Business Development Centers, Beginning Farmer Loan Programs, etc. and to develop, detailed local food goals for Kansas. Paul Johnson monitored the State Legislature for KRC during the 2011 session. His Weekly Updates are archived on KRC's website. Paul also organized the Local Food Seminar at KDA.