Meeting slated on local food

October 10, 2011

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

If households in a region made up of Henry County, Martinsville and eight other localities spent 15 percent of their weekly food budgets on locally grown foods, $90 million in new farm income would be created for the region, according to a recent report.

A recently formed local food system coalition, Field to Friends, is inviting area consumers, farmers, food entrepreneurs, markets, institutions and other food-related businesses to join forces in the development of a local food system for this region “that will address the issues of health, wealth, connection and capacity,” according to a news release from Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE).

VCE, in partnership with Field to Friends, will sponsor “2011 Local Food Systems Conference: Building the Market” from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Spencer-Penn Centre. Conference registration is $15, which includes lunch and conference materials.

A report — “A Community-Based Food System: Building Health, Wealth, Connection, and Capacity as the Foundation of Our Economic Future” — was prepared by VCE specialists Eric S. Bendfeldt and Martha Walker, VCE agents Travis Bunn and Melanie Barrow, and Lisa Martin, senior program manager at the Reynolds Homestead.

The region covered by the report includes Martinsville and Danville and the counties of Henry, Patrick, Carroll, Floyd, Franklin and Pittsylvania in Virginia, and Caswell and Rockingham counties in North Carolina.

The report stemmed from a local food system assessment and strategic planning initiative begun in 2010 by the Harvest Foundation, Patrick County Chamber of Commerce, Reynolds Homestead, the Economic Development Authority of Patrick County and VCE.

As part of the initiative, Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center conducted a local food and farm economic study of the region “to examine the potential for community-based food and farm system development,” the report states.

“Components and markets of a local, community-based food system may include: farmers markets; community-supported agriculture (CSAs); U-pick operations and roadside stands; food cooperatives and chefs collaboratives; community gardens; farm-to-school, -university, -hospital and -institution programs; food and meat processors; produce and livestock auctions; food banks and community food pantries; community kitchens; producer cooperatives; grocery stores, restaurants and food service operations,” the report says.

Bendfeldt said in an interview there are many models for community-supported agriculture, including people buying subscriptions to one farm or a group of farms in which they receive, say, $10 to $20 of vegetables and eggs each week, and businesses offering CSAs as part of a benefits package to employees to encourage them to eat more healthfully and “be invested in the community.”

Households in the region spend $1 billion annually for food, the report states. “Of this amount, $577 million is spent on groceries; however, almost all of this money leaves the local economy.”

The report says the annual economic impact if each household would spend $10 of its weekly food expenditure on locally grown food would be $3.3 million in Martinsville, $12.4 million in Henry County, $5.3 million in Patrick County and $1.65 billion in Virginia.

The report states that current annual diet-related health care costs are $4.5 billion for Virginia and $5.3 billion for North Carolina. “Health care costs for treating diabetes in the region are $239 million per year,” the report states.

Bendfeldt encourages people to look at the food system more “comprehensively and holistically,” including not only the potential to expand agricultural revenues but to moderate or lessen rising health care costs.

The report was compiled using data and comments gathered from consumers and agricultural producers participating in a number of discussions over the past two years, according to a news release from Virginia Cooperative Extension. In June, the Field to Friends local food system coalition was formed, and work groups were organized to develop goals and strategies.


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