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Water + Energy Progress
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Making Connections: Getting consumers the local, low impact food that they demand

7 years ago | Jun 24, 2014
By: Chavis Lickvar-Armstrong

My colleague, Rachel Myslivy, recently wrote a blog looking back on her two years with the Climate and Energy Project. She shares the excitement and insight she has gained through her work with this organization.It is a good time for that reflection as we begin a new Water and Energy Progress awards season. The growing discourse surrounding climate change and the future of our energy standards and water availability take away any doubt that, moving forward, we will see an increasing number of nominations heading our way.

One of the exciting aspects of working on a project like this is that it is always in the back of my mind when I see agriculture and food production in the news. With the release of the Food Hub Feasibility Study by the Douglas County Food Policy Council, I was reminded that innovative producers, like the ones we have featured on waterandenergyprogress.org, will also be the producers that break new ground when it comes to marketing their products. It is hard to believe that creating new infrastructure, taking chances on new methodology, and changing production standards is just the beginning. When all of those things pan out, the producer then has to sell their goods.Luckily, there are groups working on making connections between producers of specialty goods and the consumers that want them.

The Feasibility Study, conducted by SCALE, Inc., looks at the challenges faced by producers and consumers when it comes to selling and purchasing locally produced foods. According to the study, the challenges faced are two-fold, "farmers struggle to find sizable, secure, well-paying markets, and the vast majority of consumers do not participate in local food transactions, whether because of awareness, cost or accessibility.” Part of their investigation involved gathering qualitative data from consumers and food markets (grocers and restaurants) to gauge what they perceived to be their greatest challenges in sourcing local food (see figures).Producers were questioned similarly, but from the perspective of marketing their goods. With that information, the researchers took a look at kitchen incubator and food hub models from around the country to see if establishing a food hub in the North Eastern region of Kansas would provide solutions to the challenges on both sides of the spectrum. What they found is that consumer desire for locally sourced food (i.e., food produced by innovative farmers and ranchers here in Kansas) does exceed supply and that establishing a food hub in the region could be a solution to some, if not all of the challenges and concerns that were expressed. The study is frank about the fact that establishing a food hub is no easy task. Like all business models, it requires investment in infrastructure and is likely not to be profitable in the first years.However, the study predicts that once infrastructure and trust is established, a food hub could work in Northeast Kansas. At the very least, it is something that warrants further investigation.

The study was released this month and I regret that I haven’t had the chance to pick the brains of the producers featured in our case studies. It is my hope that as we continue with this project we will be able to expand our scope and build the bridges necessary between producers and consumers. I feel confident that our future case studies will include data that further illustrates the domino effect that innovative Ag. practices have in terms of conserving energy, saving water, and improving the overall health and well-being of Kansans, while giving consumers the goods that they demand.

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