Field Notes: Local Food & Farm Task Force Tours Dillons Distribution Facility
The sixth meeting of the Local Food and Farm Task Force convened at 9 a.m. Friday, April 17, 2015, at the Dillons Headquarters in Hutchinson, KS. The agenda for the day included a tour of the perishable section of the distribution facility and a business meeting by Task Force members to continue assessing obstacles identified by previous guests and speakers.
The tour provided the opportunity to see firsthand the scale of product that moves through a distribution facility the size of Dillons, a major grocery store chain in Kansas. The distribution facility in Hutchinson currently serves 82 stores. Managers directing the tour shared that over 6.3 million pounds of food that enters their facility comes from Kansas. Kansas sourced items such as eggs, milk, watermelon, squash, flour, sweet corn, cantaloupe and tomatoes enter through their doors to be delivered to Dillons stores around the state. However, Dillons sees the growing demand for locally sourced food and would especially like to see more sourced from Kansas farms. Items such as peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus were all on their list of produce items they’d especially l like to see enter their stores.
But just showing up to a local Dillons store or even the distribution facility with a few boxes of cucumbers, likely won’t get your product into stores shelves. With the company’s firm food safety requirements and capacity needs, some planning and cooperation from farmers is key to successfully enter their doors. Farmers must be GAP certified and/or carry two million dollars in liability coverage for starters. Before jumping into the large scale production that Dillons requires, managers suggested partnering with other farms that currently provide produce and other food products to Dillons.
The significance of the tour was the understanding of scale and opportunities the task force might look to in their recommendations to legislature in 2016. The afternoon provided time for Task Force members to sit down and discuss obstacles each member has seen rising to the top from each of their unique perspectives. Themes across the conversation included extension support (needed for educating and supporting consumers and producers), financial incentives for institutional purchasing, and aggregation and infrastructure support.
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.
Six members, along with Sen. Tom Hawk of Manhattan, the original author of SB 286, were in attendance on April 17, with about seven guests present. 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. Rep. Adam Lusker and Sen. Dan Kerschen were unable to attend.
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 May 8, 2015, 9 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at the Kansas State Capitol, in room #142 South. The meeting focus will be on training and support for specialty crop farmers. Members of the public are invited and encouraged to attend. Information about upcoming meetings can be found at http://agriculture.ks.gov/.