By Liza Dobson, Healthy Food Retail Coordinator, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, Lynchburg
The Family Nutrition Program’s (FNP) (http://blogs.ext.vt.edu/eatsmart-movemore/) mission is to teach limited-resource families and youth to make healthier food choices and become better managers of available food resources for optimal health and growth. Our programs focus on basic nutrition, physical activity, safe food handling, and thrifty food shopping. FNP Program Assistants conduct educational programming in schools, community centers, foodbanks, farmers markets, community gardens, and numerous other venues, contributing to the reduction of healthcare costs for 148,000 SNAP-eligible Virginians.
While the FNP works to help shape healthy behavior, we also understand why practicing these behaviors is challenging. Many areas across the United States are considered “food deserts” (a term no longer used by the USDA), where some low-income families also have low food-access. While income and distance from a grocery store are two main factors, we also know that food quality, price, and preparation knowledge are just as important. All of these factors influence a household’s or community’s “food environment.” Read more
By Ned Savage, AmeriCorps VISTA, Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP)
Those of us participating in the Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP), in Roanoke, find the concept of a “food shed” to be helpful when considering our regional food system. A food shed is defined as how food moves between producer and consumer. In the Roanoke region, we have defined our food shed as the cities of Roanoke and Salem and the contiguous counties of Roanoke, Bedford, Botetourt, Craig, Montgomery, Floyd, and Franklin.
Within our regional food system, a number of counties and communities have done food system assessments/studies and food system plans. Many of these studies are helpful in understanding local- and county-level issues, but if we only think in hyper local terms, then we end up with a piecemeal approach to food system planning. Food does not stop at county or city lines and the infrastructure and connections that sustain strong food systems have to cross political lines. In the fall of 2016, LEAP compiled the existing data, research and plans from throughout the region into one consolidated report that identifies common trends, key barriers, and potential opportunities.
The Roanoke Local Regional Food and Agriculture report, while helpful in considering the state of our regional food system, was notable for its lack of one key voice – the farmer’s. While LEAP has long been engaged in providing additional market outlets for local farmers, we wanted to hear directly from producers what barriers, struggles, and challenges they face to running viable farm businesses, and what else our organization could do to support them and their work. And so, in close collaboration with Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), we researched other models and designed and held a series of Farmer Listening Sessions. Read more.
By: Maureen McNamara Best, Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP) (www.leapforlocalfood.org)
We all eat. So that means we all understand, value, and think about food, agriculture, and food producers, right?
As a society, our school systems and holidays still nod to our agrarian past. But for most us, our lives are not structured around soil preparation, planting time, harvest schedules, or feeding livestock. And, if at all, we only spend a couple minutes a day thinking about where our food comes—and that time is probably focused on the logistics of purchasing food from a retailer and/or consuming a prepared meal. In a complex, industrialized society— we specialize. And in that sense, the food industry is no different. But at what cost? Read more
Do you have questions about community, local, and regional food systems? Do you want to have a solid foundation of terms, concepts, perspectives, and potential practices?
Are you an educator involved in community development and change processes? Do you want to better understand localized food systems as a social movement?
Click here to see a compilation of articles and reports that can give you a sound understanding of community, local, and regional food systems. The list contains reports on recent trends in local and regional foods, discussion on the meaning of local foods, a glossary of terms, and how land-grant universities like Virginia Tech and Virginia State University can strengthen community, local and regional food systems.
Interest in more durable farm-to-market linkages along the food value chain continues to grow. A key component for making these market linkages is having accessible points of aggregation and distribution. Regional food hubs have developed in Virginia and across the country to serve this purpose. Food hubs are a critical food system link and an accessible point for producers, processors, and distributors to retail, wholesale, and institutional markets.
The Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, VA serves as a critical link for regional farmers and businesses in central Virginia.
The US Department of Agriculture defines a regional food hub as a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy retail, wholesale, and institutional demand. If you are interested in learning more about regional food hubs, below are some guides and informational reports in the form of an annotated bibliography to get you started. Read more
by Liz Kirchner, Virginia SARE Outreach Coordinator and Healthy Food Access Project, Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, Northern District
Home garden food production – even if that means a tomato in a bucket – is widely recognized to contribute to household nutrition and self-reliance. Garden produce strengthens ties between neighbors as those tomatoes are swapped, and maintains traditional foodways as gardening stories, seeds, and cooking skills are shared. However, not everybody realizes that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings, a caveat to the 1973 Farm Bill gauged to help people plant gardens. To raise awareness – and home gardens, too – Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Health Food Access program will host a series of seedling planting events with food pantry clients throughout the spring.
We will begin in May, after the frost-free date. The project goal is to send SNAP clients and other food pantry participants home with a planted seedling and a mapped list of nearby SNAP retailers who sell seedlings. Retailers identified using the ArcGIS, Google Maps, and the Buy Fresh Buy Local Guide include Walmart, some Food Lions, independent groceries, and the Staunton, Dayton, Waynesboro, and Harrisonburg Farmers’ Markets. (Continue reading)