Local Food Systems Need Cohesion Bendfeldt Says
W&L And Virginia Cooperative Extension Agents Participate In Forum

A recent news release from the Farm Bureau looked at issues discussed at a recent Virginia Food System and Farm-to-Table Forum that included local participants from W&L and area Virginia Coop Extension agents. According to the release, The Virginia Food System and Farm-to-Table Forum was held April 14 at Virginia State University’s Randolph Farm to explore the state’s food systems from production to consumption.

“We’re holding these forums because we want to find the challenges, gaps and issues that farmers and related organizations are facing,” said Eric Bendfeldt, a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist and chairman of the Virginia Food System Council.

The council was created in 2007 to explore the development of a comprehensive local foods system. It includes agriculture groups, school representatives, food hubs and farmers.

“There is an unprecedented demand for local foods, and some consider it a trend but it’s already a $7 billion annual trend that continues to grow,” Bendfeldt said.

He said the food council is working to develop a farm-to-table program. The VSU forum, in conjunction with others held this spring, is part of the second phase of that work, and the council plans to make a formal presentation to legislators this fall.

The forums brought together farmers, educators, community leaders and others to brainstorm.

Bendfeldt said Americans spend $1 trillion on food each year, and in 2008 food purchases were their second- or third-largest household expenditure.

“Virginians spend at least $15 billion annually on food purchases, but 85 to 90 percent of that food comes from outside Virginia so there is an economic opportunity for more locally grown Virginia food products to be produced, processed, purchased and consumed than what’s currently occurring,” Bendfeldt said. “A healthy, vibrant, resilient local and regional food system that builds and empowers local producers and contributes to the state’s economy through increased production, processing, distribution and consumption can help capture and retain more of the food dollars that are already circulating in the economy for economic recovery and growth.”

There are nine food hubs and four wholesale markets in Virginia, but they “don’t even know each other,” said Christopher Carpenter, special projects coordinator for Washington & Lee University, which buys 27 percent of its food from local farmers. “We need to get the heart connected to all the veins and arteries.”

Carpenter suggested that the definition of local should span the state. He buys apples from the Shenandoah Valley, trucks in squash and potatoes from Southeast Virginia and sources beef from a farm near the university.

Other forum participant suggestions included providing incentives for school systems to buy local foods, protecting small growers through legislation, emphasizing to communities that local food is affordable, and ensuring that there is some sort of fresh food market in every community. For information contact Bendfeldt at 540-432-6029, ext. 106.


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