Lawrence, Kansas has been building a local/regional foods movement since the early 1970’s. In other words – they made local foods “cool” long before the local food movement and Farmer’s Markets gained in popularity across the nation.
The movement started with the creation of a retail food cooperative called the “The Merc” in 1974. The cooperative started with four individuals and currently includes more than 6,800. The Lawrence farmers market has grown from a single Saturday morning market to four markets each week supported by regional producers that grow everything from asparagus to zucchini – from “A” to “Z” in the fruit and vegetable alphabet.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) businesses are not only growing in popularity with individuals – but also corporate customers including the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper, the Lawrence Hospital and many others. Restaurants in Lawrence feature local foods and local food producers in their menus. “Limestone Pizzeria” is the latest addition to the restaurant choices in Lawrence to feature local foods (their fresh sweet corn, tomato and bacon pizza is a favorite). The restaurants order fresh produce and meats from the Farmers Market vendors in advance – and then pick it up at the Farmers Markets on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Another new twist to the Lawrence Local Foods efforts is their Farm to Pre-School program, called “Healthy Sprouts” that is initiated and supported by the Douglas County Child Development Association. This program works to cultivate healthy habits in the early years of a child’s life, increase access to local food and provide comprehensive food education. Their efforts are changing childrens’ eating habits by introducing healthy foods through the gardening experience – not just the eating experience.
Douglas County has a robust Food Policy Council, which was awarded a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant in 2013 to conduct a Food Hub Feasibility Study. The study is complete and implementation of its recommendations are underway in order to build on past success and create more opportunities for producers and consumers to support the local food environment.
What started as food cooperative and a single-day Farmers Market has grown to a scaled-up local food system that strengthens the connection between producers and consumers, improves nutrition for all ages and creates a positive economic impact in the community and region.