Natchitoches Community Table
Natchitoches Farmers Market

By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLAF Staff Writer


That’s the word that came to mind when a few of us from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation  and Pennington Biomedical Research team made the trek up to Alexandria for a recent Food Policy Council meeting (created by the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative group). And it was amazing to see how much this Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant supported project has accomplished in the past two years.

We all remember visiting the council when it was first formed, nearly 2 years ago. Attendance was sparse. Momentum seemed hard to come by.

Those days are clearly long gone, as the team of 15 attendees showed up to discuss an agenda chalked full of exciting developments.

Top of the list? A  new Food Policy Council Ordinance in Jonesville (the largest town in Catahoula Parish). It’s the only ordinance of its kind in the state, said John Dean, one of our Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative leaders, and made possible by the hard work of this newly formed Food Policy Council.

That alone gives this group some pretty decent bragging rights. Without the Food Policy Council, this ordinance would never be. The group brought the concept to Jonesville’s mayor, then helped write a draft ordinance, which the mayor took to his town council. And now? On February 10, the council will officially vote. But it’s expected to pass, making the Local Food Ordinance law in the town of Jonesville.

What does it do? Basically, it says that the town will support any effort to increase local food sales and production, because, simply put, a boost in local food sales means a boost for the local economy. One example:

“The ordinance now allows individuals to take what they grow in their gardens,” said one Food Policy Council member, “and sell it at farmers markets without all the red tape.”

Red tape — meaning  no more applying and paying for permits first, essentially.

“And,” added Dean, “this ordinance can now open the door for other communities to pass their own resolutions to increase access to local foods. Other towns can see what’s happened in Jonesville, see them as an example, and then do the same thing. So this is just the beginning.”

Another big Food Policy Council accomplishment? The creation of the Local Foods Workplace Guidelines, which can be distributed to area businesses, explaining different ways a business can incorporate more locally grown foods into the office and into the lives of its employees. Because, as we mentioned, what’s good for the local foods market is good for the economy — which is good for all regional businesses (and that’s a point Dean emphasized later in the day when he presented the Healthy Workplace Practices guidelines to the Chamber of Commerce during an afternoon luncheon).

“You can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people,” Dean told the Chamber crowd.

Suggestions include weekly farmers markets in the office parking lot or, when it’s time to cater staff lunches and dinners, buy from restaurants and groceries that purchase from area farmers.

So much more to brag about here… Like the council’s work to better connect farmers with area grocery stores, or its efforts to help surrounding schools incorporate affordable local foods into their weekly menus  (one school is already committed to using sweet potatoes purchased from neighboring farms, like C&C Mini Farm in Leesville, La).

And if that weren’t enough, the food council is gearing up to support Alexandria’s 3rd Annual Foodapalooza (Feb. 27), a two day celebration of all things local foods, with special guest speakers, workshops and area restaurants offering meal specials made with local produce. For updates on Foodapalooza schedule, go to the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative Facebook page.

See you there!