Chris Sramek, Atwood, has seen a lot more support for locally grown food since start-up 10 years ago of the member-owned High Plains Food Co-op. The group is comprised of farmers in northwest Kansas and nearby Nebraska and Colorado.
The co-op has grown from 15 farms to 50, and now each week delivers meat and produce to Denver for distribution to markets on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
But more help is needed to grow and distribute local food and make it truly viable, said Sramek, who coordinates the co-op.
“I think the market is growing, and people are more aware, and there is more political support,” Sramek said, citing policy and financial investments.
It remains difficult for small farmers to produce and sell locally, due to nagging obstacles, such as bottlenecks with access to cold storage and processing. “It’s really tough for small farmers … What we can’t access are cheap processing, cheap distribution, cheap grain.”
Those kinds of issues and others will be the topic of discussion at a town hall meeting and free dinner Aug. 14 in Norton, hosted by the Kansas Rural Center, Topeka.
Access to fresh food, good education and health care are some of the concerns facing rural Kansas communities, said Natalie Fullerton, program director at the non-profit Kansas Rural Center.
“It’s a really great opportunity for folks to come out and listen to what’s happening at the state level that affects food and farm systems in local communities,” Fullerton said. “These issues impact where people choose to live.”
The KRC works to advance viable food and farm systems in Kansas. It’s hosting the forum to inform voters before the election about issues key to rural communities.
“Our goal is to get community people to sit down together to learn about food and policy information at the state level,” said Mary Fund, the KRC’s executive director.
Hopefully people who attend will be motivated to take action by being sure to vote or through greater community involvement.
“There’s a lot that people can do at the state and community level,” Fund said, noting a July 2017 Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis report that found that local or regional food systems can build and transform local economies.
“These issues are those that are geared toward what makes a healthy community — access to food, education and health care,” she said.
KRC’s previous town hall meetings have focused on access to food, particularly the problem of small towns losing their grocery stores, and more recently on how to help farmers get locally grown produce, meat and poultry to markets.
The Norton town hall meeting, "Voting for the Future: Dinner & Dialogue," will be at the Historic Heaton Building downtown. It’s one of four across the state that also address the broader issues of education and health care, said Caryl Hale, Norton, who is helping organize the event.
Speakers for the Norton program will include Scott Sproul with the Northwest Kansas Economic Innovation Center; a representative of the eight-county Western Prairie Food, Farm and Community Alliance; and Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.
The program will focus on policy updates, local and regional efforts to strengthen community access to food, resources for farmers, and dialogue about civic engagement and ways to work together to reach the common vision of a healthy food and farm system, said a KRC news release.
Besides Norton, forums are set for Cimarron, Aug, 15; Girard, Aug. 28; and Concordia, Aug. 30.
Each forum includes a free 5 p.m. dinner from locally sourced ingredients. Register by Aug. 10 to ensure a meal at https://bit.ly/2mMcPQw or https://kansasruralcenter.org/community-food-solutions-civic-agriculture-for-civic-health/voting-for-the-future-dinner-and-dialogue/.
“These are your town hall meetings,” Fund said in a KRC press release. “They are not candidate forums, so local citizens have a chance to discuss with each other what they need and want, and what to ask candidates about,"