PRESTONSBURG — A group of Floyd County volunteers representing agriculture, government and social service interests is working to map out the county’s strengths and weaknesses in feeding itself.
The group, initiated by Appalachian Roots with assistance from Community Farm Alliance, has a goal of examining all steps along the food chain, in an effort to identify unmet needs and unrealized potential.
Todd Howard, a local farmer who manages the Floyd County Farmer’s Market, says he believes there is a lot of potential for Floyd Countians to provide healthier foods for themselves, as well as to make additional income by selling their harvests.
“Really and truthfully, I think that our local markets, our local food markets, are an untapped resource,” Howard said. “It’s got huge potential for growth.”
Howard said some small changes could potentially have a big effect on the community.
“We know all of this food is coming into Floyd County, but where is it coming from?” Howard said. “What happens if we’re able to replace 5 percent, 10 percent of this food with local produce? What does that do to the local economy?”
Heather Hyden, an organizer with Community Farm Alliance, served along with fellow organizer Alexa Arnold as a facilitator of the meeting. She said her group is primarily focused on helping local residents ask questions and find answers to improve the region’s food supply and, ultimately, its finanical health.
“What we’re trying to do is empower the community to do their own, basically, research,” Hyden said. “What is being grown in this county and what people are wanting to see, as far as healthy and affordable food, in the community. We’re doing that by working at the grassroots level to train the community how to do surveys and how to think about research questions. The overall goal of the project, though, is to develop a report that offers recommendations to policymakers on how to make changes, like how to use the local food system as an economic development tool for the community.”
Hyden said that in addition to providing economic benefits, local food production could have health benefits, as well.
“I think the best-case scenario I could see is farmers like Todd Howard having trainings available for how to grow more food,” Hyden said. “That, and on the consumption end, I see more education to consumers on like how to make that SNAP dollar stretch and how to buy things for your family that are healthy and that are going to provide for your kids without having to worry about these horrible disesases, like diabetes and obesity.”
The group has broken into four subcommittees, dealing with production, consumption, community resources, and public outreach and education. The group will continue to meet throughout the year and hopes to have a final report ready by Oct. 1.