September 25, 2013 8:05:44 AM
TUPELO -- Appalachian Regional Commission officials say creative collaborations among food entrepreneurs in northeast Mississippi can create better health, better taste, lower costs and new economic opportunities for rural communities.
The ARC is promoting its local-food movement across its 13-state region, including 22 counties of Northeast Mississippi. It is promoting farmers' markets, canning kitchens and programs to connect farmers with schools, prisons and high-end restaurants.
"Local food is an emerging market, a growing market," said Earl Gohl, ARC federal co-chairman. "We're in the business of growing jobs. It's not a new Toyota plant, but it is expansion for a lot of growers, a lot of sellers."
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports that the ARC brought the initiative Thursday to the Tupelo Farmers' Market and later hosted a round-table discussion with farmers, restaurateurs, researchers and educators. The ARC also went to Vardaman for a local at its sweet potato industry and the farmers' market in Bruce.
Guy Land, ARC chief of staff, said educating the public on both the health and economic benefits of local food economies will be a starting point in some communities.
"There's an awful lot of energy and opportunity in (local food in) Mississippi, but there's a lot of fragmentation in linking growers and markets together in ways that make sense," Land said.
Round-table participants said farmers too big to sell entire crops at farmers' markets but too small to deal directly with most institutions or companies need ways to market cooperatively.
Already, ARC has funded foodways activities in every Appalachian state, investing $7.6 million since 2001.