Field Notes: Local Food & Farm Task Force Looks at Infrastructure and Distribution
The fourth meeting of the Local Food and Farm Task Force convened at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, in the Kansas Capitol, Topeka. The agenda included a presentation about local food infrastructure and distribution opportunities and challenges, provided by representatives of Good Natured Family Farms of Southeast Kansas.
The Task Force also received information about private farm risk insurance and loan programs available for specialty crop producers through Frontier Farm Credit, similar to information provided by the Farm Service Agency at the January meeting. Information about Frontier Farm Credit and its programs can be found at: www.frontierfarmcredit.com.
Diana Endicott, founder and manager of Good Natured Family Farms, provided a history and overview of the business, from its origins in tomato production to supplying products from farmers from three states into urban markets through Ball Food stores and Sysco Inc. in the Kansas City area. She also highlighted the business’s focus on “vulnerable communities,” those low-income stores and outlets such as churches, through several grant-funded pilot projects.
Good Natured Family Farms markets product from 150 farms in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska and had $4.5 million in revenues last year. Endicott emphasized the value to rural communities in providing marketing outlets for food products from small farms. She said obstacles included:
- a need for supply especially of berries of all types,
- transportation and hauling challenges,
- a need for processing equipment such as slicers to help provide user-ready product to institutions,
- farmer communication,
- increasing regulations like GAP certification,
- difficulty in gaining funding through state programs,
- and competitive legal challenges from larger entities such as the established dairy industry.
Opportunities she listed included knowing the economics of program reimbursements to find the lucrative markets for farm goods into schools and institutions, such as Head Start programs; farms can make money working with these programs. She said farmers coming together to create coops similar to the traditional elevators in small towns, but with food aggregation facilities including processing equipment, loading docks and cold storage, could fill needed gaps. And she predicted that as with tobacco, heavy pressure from insurance companies would further drive increased demand for healthful farm foods, to help bring health costs down.
Her recommendations to the task force included:
- looking at programs to help beginning farmers, such as programs through community colleges;
- looking at and encouraging innovations already occurring on farms;
- establishing and encouraging institutional purchasing contracts that set aside a certain percentage for local farm foods;
- reducing or eliminating tax on fresh farm foods;
- supporting rural and indoor farmers markets;
- supporting development of food chain infrastructure needs;
- and making legal representation available to small farmers and growers to help them fight challenges.
Rep. Adam Lusker asked about the seasonal challenges of growing foods in Kansas. Endicott pointed out the opportunity for value-added and processing facilities to turn seasonal produce, cheese and other products into chopped, shredded or frozen products that would be welcomed especially by institutional purchasers.
He also asked about how to reconcile the desire to help farmers increase their income and profit, while also providing increased food access to low-income people. Endicott said one successful answer lay in “match bucks” programs, such as one in Douglas County and one Good Natured is working with out of Michigan, that provides dollar-for-dollar match to food assistance recipients for farm products. She also said working with the youth programs that provide food, like Head Start, is economically feasible for farmers and has been documented by a researcher at KU as increasing value of nutrition consumed — and not tossed out — by children in those programs.
For more information, visit: www.goodnaturedfamilyfarms.com.
The Task Force was established by the passage of senate bill 286 in the 2014 legislative session, and is responsible for preparing a local food and farm plan containing policy and funding recommendations in order to increase locally grown food production. The recommendations are due to the legislature in January 2016.
All eight members along with Sen. Tom Hawk of Manhattan, the original author of SB 286, were in attendance on Jan. 23, with an audience of about 14 people including several presenters. Task force members are: farmer and Chairman Ron Brown, David Coltrain of Seward County Community College, Dr. Cary Rivard of K-State Research & Extension – Olathe, farmer Loren Swenson, and Annarose White and Julie Roller representing KDA. Legislative appointees are Rep. Adam Lusker, Frontenac, and Sen. Dan Kerschen, Garden Plain. (White attended via telephone.)
The task force is meeting monthly and has invited speakers who can answer questions pertinent to local farming and food systems in Kansas. Previous meetings have featured KRC’s Feeding Kansas (http://kansasruralcenter.org/feeding-kansas/) report and the recently adopted Kansas Farm Bureau resolution regarding local food systems (http://www.kfb.org/Assets/uploads/images/capitolgovernment/2015finalstatres.pdf).
The next Task Force meeting will be Friday, March 13, at 8 a.m. in the Capitol building. Members of the public are invited and encouraged to attend, and information about upcoming meetings can be found at http://agriculture.ks.gov/.