ALEXANDRIA, LA — Foodapalooza, a new farmers market, an urban farming program, a community table, a regional food policy council and a Nutrition On Wheels vehicle were just a few of the milestones achieved during the first year of the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative.
As the second year begins, more local foods coalitions continue to form, a new MarketMatch program will be available for those using SNAP/EBT benefits at the Cane River Green Market, and a local foods celebration is soon to be held in Leesville, are just some of the upcoming initiative developments.
The initiative, which is funded by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation Challenge Grant and The Rapides Foundation, and led by the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA), aims to strengthen Central Louisiana’s local foods economy, while also increasing access to fresh foods for all the region’s residents. “The Local Foods Initiative is a collaborative effort that will lead to long-term changes in our region’s local foods economy,” says John Cotton Dean, CLEDA’s regional food systems planner. Project partners include the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, the Louisiana Public Health Institute, and MarketUmbrella.
According to Jim Clinton, CLEDA president and CEO, “We are using a community-based approach to create lasting relationships between Central Louisiana’s farmers, local markets and consumers. We believe these relationships are key to a sustainable local foods economy.” The community-led process that the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative enables has encouraged the many accomplishments listed below:
• As of October 1st, 36 community discussions have occurred, with over 150 total participants, each focusing upon developing a local foods economy throughout our region’s nine parishes
• The convening of the Central Louisiana Local Foods Working Group, a representative regional body working to engage Central Louisiana in driving long-term changes to create a healthier region and more vibrant local foods economy
• The Colfax Farmers Market, one of the largest produce-focused markets in Central Louisiana, and completely community-initiated
• The Natchitoches Community Table, which is set-up at the weekly Cane River Green Market, allowing local gardeners and small-scale farmers to sell their produce cooperatively through one source
• Beginning Saturday, October 12th, Natchitoches’ Cane River Green Market will be accepting EBT/SNAP benefits for the purchase of fresh produce. The market will also be implementing a MarketMatch program where the market will match up to $20 every individual market visit for those using EBT cards for purchases
• A subgroup of Eat Local Rapides have developed an online marketplace where producers may sell their produce online, allowing customers to order what they want online, and then be able to pick-up their orders at a pre-determined location (think of it as a multi-farm CSA)
• The Business Acceleration System’s weekly Small Plot Farming Class, which began on Saturday, August 10th, includes over twenty participants, and focuses on the basics of small-scale farming, from planting to selling the harvest
• Foodapalooza, held a regional event held back in April, brought together nearly one hundred residents of Central Louisiana to celebrate and learn more about the local foods grown right here in our region- look for the 2nd annual Foodapalooza this spring!
• Two assessments of region’s local foods economy have been conducted this past spring; one led by the Louisiana Public Health Institute, and the other led by economist and local foods expert, Ken Meter. Both assessments offer insight into our region, and present direction for our region’s local leaders and residents towards a healthy local foods economy.