907700_10200956804459602_1457448137_n-300x225Last week, nine parishes joined together  to discuss better ways to bring local, farm fresh foods to their communities. Foodapalooza, they called it — a day filled with workshops and speakers steeped in the healthy food systems fight. The overall message? If you want a healthy body, and a healthy economy for your community? Eat local…

“The point is to celebrate where we are in this region-wide conversation in developing healthy eating habits for our community,” said Jim Clinton, president and CEO of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “We have a long way to go. But we are discovering that by eating local, we have better health outcomes for our people, and better economic outcomes for our local farmers. But to do all of that means getting those foods to market, which means actually creating that market.”

The discussion, held at the Kress Theater in Alexandria, was led by the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative program, a $1 million project dedicated to increasing the availability of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Challenge for a Healthier Louisianaour Foundation’s bold $10.2 million nation-wide grant program, supplied $500,000 of that funding, with additional dollars supplied by The Rapides Foundation.

911384_10200957035625381_49486976_n-225x300The event’s keynote speaker, Ken Meter, a nationally-recognized food systems expert who has taught at Harvard, the University of Minnesota, and is a contributing editor to the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, emphasized how local eating can dramatically impact a region’s economy.

“The current food system takes wealth out of our community,” said Meter, noting that 90% of food purchased for consumption by Alexandria residents is purchased from non-local providers. “We are consuming 87 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. There is a huge market that is not currently being met by local providers.”

907621_10200957276351399_1794396664_n-225x300The day’s remaining workshops underscored that message, with lessons on how to turn around that trend. Topics included: Farmers Markets, if you build it, will they come; Growing Profits, finding and selling local foods; How to start a food-based business.

John Cotton Dean, regional food systems planner who has been leading a series of Eat Local discussion groups across the nine parishes, said he’s already seen small but dramatic changes among his groups — like the new Grandparents Club in Jena, where grandparents will begin participating in their local farmer’s market by pulling resources — with each participant contributing left over vegetables from their own gardens to a community table, then be sold to the public.

“In some places, this is the first time the community is talking about how to eat fresh, local foods,” Dean said. “But already, it has led to some immediate effects.”

For more information about Ken Meter’s Foodapalooza talk, check out this article fromTheTownTalk.com.