More news of local food success in Kentucky

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Green beans from the Letcher County Farmers’ Market.

Kentucky leads the way in federally funded local foods projects at 1,659. That latest number comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with this one: local food sales topped $11.7 billion last year – that’s billion, with a “b.”

That is a huge figure, and one that further proves local foods is one sector upon which communities can capitalize, something we’ve been saying for years.

Not only are local farmers, et al, making a big economic impact through the local foods sector, but farmers’ markets and direct-to-consumer outlets are quickly becoming cornerstones of small communities and helping to develop a broader and deeper sense of community among locals.

In Kentucky, 73 farmers markets and DTC outlets now accept SNAP, and last year, almost $80,000 in SNAP benefits were redeemed at Kentucky markets. That is huge news for eastern Kentucky where many locals rely on SNAP each month. Such locals would have been excluded from using SNAP at many farmers markets just 5 years ago.

The Letcher County Farmers’ Market (LCFM) in Whitesburg, Ky., is a shining example of an innovative approach to eastern Kentucky farmers’ markets. Not only does the market accept SNAP and run a successful summer feeding program for local children, but the market now works in partnership with the Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation to provide “prescriptions” for locally-grown, organic food. Patients who qualify for the Farmacy program receive $1 per day per family member, which are later totaled and written on a voucher that can be used at the LCFM.

We’ve said many times on this blog that there is no one solution for eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia’s economic challenges. In order to address those challenges, we will have to diversify our economy, and when we diversify, we should look to our local assets – the unique and non-out-sourcable aspects of our communities – to lead the way. Clearly, local foods is one sector from which we can grow our new economy.