Grant Designed to Improve Access to Local, Fresh Food

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From the Stone County Leader, January 11, 2012

Meadowcreek, Inc. in Fox has been awarded a $95,180 USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant. The FMPP’s 2012 mission is to “help improve access to healthy, nutritious and local foods for people living in low-income, rural food deserts.”

Named The Meadowcreek LinkProject, the program’s focus is “linking local foods and local folks.“ Its activities will take place throughout 2012 and focus primarily in Stone County.

LinkProject Director, Beverly Dunaway, who is Vice President of Meadowcreek, Inc.’s Board of Directors and who was instrumental in establishing Stone County Farmers Market, states there are numerous factors that determine a food desert designation.

One straightforward factor is small rural communities most often have less access to the broader global market and consequently have fewer choices in food retailers. Lack of competition in the community not only restricts access to food resources, but can also result in higher food costs.

With more than 50 million Americans living in “food-insecure” households, much of this food insecurity is the result of families living in areas where they don’t have easy access to healthy, nutritious food. In these communities, families often turn to convenience stores and fast food restaurants for their meals. This results in diets high in processed sugars and fats, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other diseases, not to mention nutritional imbalance.

Operating on the premise that communities can improve their food security by producing their own healthy food, the LinkProject will implement four strategies in order to expand Stone County’s direct producer-to-consumer relationships, as well as provide helpful information about the value of eating local fresh and healthy foods.

The first strategy begins in March when the Stone County Locally Grown Online Market opens for business. Dunaway believes that while some Stone County producers may not yet be ready to take advantage of online selling, a local online market will allow regional producers to offer their natural and locally grown products in Stone County for the first time. It will also provide a new marketing outlet for many local producers of value-added products such as jams, jellies, baked and prepared food items.

Already underway is the LinkProject’s second strategy of hosting a series of low-cost, cold frame construction workshops that will enable local growers to extend their growing seasons. Workshops held in November and December placed five, 13′ X 50’ cold frames at active farms in Stone County. The host farms included the Hermansen and Day Gardens at Meadowcreek in Fox; the Allen Farm in Fox; Feathers in the Wind Farm in Leslie; and, Reality Ranch in Timbo, all of which will be active vendors at farmers markets in the area. Three additional workshops are planned for February at Stargap Farm in Mountain View (2/6/12); the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View (02/18/12); and, Ratchford Buffalo Farm in Marshall (2/21/12).

The workshops are free, but space is limited. For more information or to reserve a space in a cold frame workshop, please contact the LinkProject using contact information at the end of this article.

The LinkProject’s third strategy focuses on the key role that locally owned, value-added enterprises play in sustaining rural agricultural systems. To encourage and support local growers, bakers and cooks in bringing value-added products such as jams, jellies, baked goods and prepared food items to market, beginning in April, the LinkProject will host a series of workshops on packaging and labeling food products. This strategy will be further supplemented by the creation of a new certified kitchen/farmers market store in downtown Mountain View.

Stone County Farmers Market vendors, Melissa and Bobby Allen, have graciously donated use of the facility to the LinkProject for its 2012 activities. The kitchen/market will enable Stone County cooks and farmers market vendors to create and sell food products on-site.

“Our vision is that Stone County becomes recognized as much for its local foods as it is for its music and crafts,” says Dunaway. The new facility, Stone County Country Kitchen will open around March 1 as the 2012 farmers market season gets underway. Watch for the announcement in our local papers.

During February through May, the LinkProject’s fourth strategy will offer The LINK Lunch & Learn Series to Food Room program participants. The Lunch & Learn Series is an entertaining, practical and informational series of four workshops titled Beans & Greens, Taters & Tires, Refrigerator Soup, and Twice As Nice Rice.

For more information or to reserve a spot in LinkProject workshops, contact the LinkProject at 870-213-5785 or via email at bevdunaway@gmail.com. After January 16, also contact the LinkProject through its website at www.meadowcreeklink.com.

 

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