We’re excited to share this update on a project funded through our Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana program. An excerpt is included below. To read the full article, visit http://www.kalb.com/content/news/Network-of-farmers-markets-thrive-in-Cenla-481419141.html
ALEXANDRIA, La. – On most Saturdays and certain weekdays, Central Louisiana residents have the opportunity to buy fresh food, meet with neighbors, and help the economy, thanks to an expanding network of farmers markets throughout the region.
Central Louisiana is home to ten active farmers markets and one mobile farmers market. Six are open year-round while the remaining markets are kicking back up now and over the next few weeks for the new growing season.
“Thriving farmers markets are true assets to their communities. They improve the quality of life for vendors and customers alike,” said Allison Tohme, Farmers Market Program Developer for the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA).
With funding from a Healthy Behaviors Program Grant from The Rapides Foundation, CLEDA is working to build a vibrant network of farmers markets throughout the region. In late 2016, the organization created Tohme’s position to lead these efforts, which includes connecting farmers markets with resources that allow them to sell more produce while putting healthy food on the plates of Central Louisiana adults and children. In addition, CLEDA leads the Central Louisiana Farmers Market Development Taskforce, which meets regularly to share challenges and successes, and to receive resources and technical assistance to help markets offer new programs and improve the quality of their operations.
“We work with farmers markets as a way to improve the quality of life in each community and Central Louisiana as a whole,” said Jim Clinton, CLEDA’s President and CEO. “That’s what economic development is all about – creating vibrant communities.”
Farmers markets serve many purposes, such as increasing people’s access to fresh, local food. Most markets are located in town squares or other common areas that are easily accessible. The City of Natchitoches in 2017 introduced a mobile farmers market that travels to two locations each week to bring fresh produce straight into neighborhoods.
Markets also are designed to foster personal relationships and community cohesion. The Olla Town Square Market, for example, is led by volunteers and draws customers from all of LaSalle Parish. It’s not uncommon to see shoppers leisurely visit with friends and farmers while they shop, Tohme said.
In addition, farmers markets serve as incubators for small businesses. “They are ideal outlets for small-scale farmers and ranchers or new businesses to begin selling their products and grow a customer base,” she said.
The Rapides Foundation’s Healthy Behaviors Program Grants fund projects that have a focus on healthy eating, active living, or prevention of tobacco use, substance or alcohol abuse. The Healthy Behaviors Program Grant funding to CLEDA complements work currently being done by the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative, a community effort that aims to strengthen Central Louisiana’s local foods economy while increasing access to fresh foods for all residents of the region. The initiative was created in 2012 with a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana Grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana and matching funding from The Rapides Foundation. The Initiative is currently supported by funding from The Rapides Foundation as well as a philanthropic investment from Keller Enterprises, LLC.