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Rural Grocery Initiative

Salina Hosts Meet and Greet to Discuss Local Food System

Community members in Salina, Kan. took the first step to examine their local food system at the Meet, Greet, and Eat-Local! event that took place Thursday, Jan. 29. Approximately 180 people attended to meet and get to know those involved in the program. They sampled local foods and listened to a panel discuss topics relevant to the city and surrounding county’s food industry.

This event was the kick-off for the Local Food System Assessment workshop, which will take place on March 10. The first goal of this event and program is to increase awareness of local food resources in Salina and the surrounding counties. The next goals are to increase health and wellness while simultaneously helping develop the local economy. The assessment is funded by a grant from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service through the Kansas State University Engineering Extension.

Barb Goode, Kansas State University Research and Extension, leads the task force group organizing the Salina event. The workshop will result in an assessment of the community food system, which they defined as the sum of all activities required to make food available to people, according to the event brochure.

“I don’t know that I did know that [the local food system] wasn’t working until I really got into this grant,” Goode said. “But I would say that once we started talking to people, we learned that there are people like our local school district [and local restaurants] that would like to purchase more locally but they cannot find a source that can produce enough of what they need. They can’t find someone who can produce what they need year-round, a consistent source.”

Attendees included Salina residents, local farm owners and food suppliers as well as others. Christy Crowther of –C Meats, LLC. and her husband Brian Crowther of –C Land and Cattle are from north of McPherson. They and other nearby producers hoped to reach out to more customers and learn more about local foods.

“I was interested in coming to see what there is for a better market and to market products better,” Michelle Rourke of Nature’s Harvest, LLC. said.

Another local resident, former restaurant owner Larry Bunker came to the event as a concerned citizen. “I’m trying to figure out more about what’s going on and how things are working in Kansas and how to keep it in Kansas,” Bunker said.

“I came with the understanding that things are progressing in the sense of us trying to grow better connections in Kansas and having better food to be purchased in stores.”

Topics discussed at the initial meet and greet event included issues that affected local distributors, producers, processing, waste, and consumption. The panel included representatives from each area, including Don Wagner of Wagner Organic Farms, Danny Williamson of Krehbiel’s Specialty Meats, Mike Soetaert of Prairieland Market, Cindy Foley of USD 305, and Ron Rouse from the City of Salina.

“I thought it was excellent, people were energized, there was a buzz throughout the event. People were passionate in the panel discussion, in the question and answer part.” Goode said. “We got a lot of people who gave us compliments. They see this as a good start to a network, because I learned that there seems to be a real need for this process that we’re doing. People said there needed to be better connections between growers and buyers.”

Prairieland Market, Big John’s Brewing Co., Blue Skye Brewery, and Smoky Hill Vineyards and Winery were some of the local food companies who supplied beverages and appetizers for the event. Local farms, mills and Saline County Produce supplied food for the appetizers. The food and drink provided those in attendance a chance to sample some of the local produce from the county.

“I love to cook, so we happened to have a conversation one day about doing my own restaurant so my market assistant invited me. The squash fritters are different, but good, and the wine is awesome,” said Anna Parker. “I like to do the local market with the vegetables and I think we need to have more vendors out there and more of a choice, so I thought that I would just come and put my input in.”

Representatives of all aspects of the local food system will take a closer look at the local food system through the workshop on March 10 with strategic planning and analysis. Participants will further analyze the local food system with their community and begin to plan how to grow it and make it stronger.

To learn more about events such as this one or the Rural Grocery Initiative as a whole, visit http://www.ruralgrocery.org/.