A growing consumer appetite for foods grown in their region was the focus of a recent Food and Agricultural Council (FAC) meeting in Valley City, North Dakota. FAC Chairman, Jasper Schneider, also state director of USDA Rural Development, invited healthy food activists to share the ups and downs of this growing movement.
Sharon Buhr warned of chronic disease caused by poor diets and her efforts through the schools and hospital to serve local produce. The clients are “starved” for more fruits and vegetables but she wonders how to motivate farmers to grow more. North Dakota’s number one industry is agriculture; but wheat, beans, and corn top the list in contrast to Buhr’s wish list. Sharon Clancy teamed up with Buhr to increase the local foods market to 2500 pounds of produce delivered to restaurants, hospitals and schools in the Valley City area but lack of supply thwarted the growth of their efforts. Delivery times also became an issue and because of North Dakota’s winters, the supply was limited to a few months. Clancy says USDA loans have been helpful but she would welcome additional funding support to bring the local foods program to the next level.
Dana Pritschet from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture reported on their three-year-old local foods initiative in the state. It includes educating children through the Farm-to-School program, the Garden Project donated a half million pounds of food to charity, an annual local foods conference, a mobile food processing van available for rent, and in the future, a community orchards program. Extension director, Duane Hauck added, the North Dakota Legislature recently allocated funding for the Junior Master Gardener Program.
State Director Schneider reminded the public to call on his agency as a resource besides its typical role as a lender. He said if the agency were a private lender, it would be the seventh largest in the world with a portfolio of $151 Billion. Schneider oversees over forty programs including the Value-added Producer Grant program (VAPG) that’s helped farmers, agricultural marketing cooperatives, and others.
USDA is currently accepting applications for funding under the Value Added Producer Grant program but the deadline is rapidly approaching. For more information, contact your State Rural Development office or click here.