Topeka — More and bigger farmers markets, homegrown veggies offered in school lunches and better nutrition: These are some of the goals of the new Kansas Food Policy Council, which will be unveiled today.
Dan Nagengast, a Lawrence farmer and executive director of the Kansas Rural Center, will coordinate the council, which is being financed through a two-year, $120,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"One of the biggest chunks of the Kansas economy goes toward growing commodities and very little of the prosperity stays here, so the thought is local and regional food systems provide more opportunity," Nagengast said.
Nagengast said the council would work on strategies that would encourage more local farming, food processing and food retailers.
It also will target the problems of hunger and inadequate diets to ensure that everyone is "food secure," he said.
And the council will tackle issues involving the production of healthy foods and improving people's eating habits.
"There is very little starvation in the United States, but there is extremely poor nutrition, and most of our chronic diseases are nutritionally based," he said.
Diabetes, heart disease and obesity often have their origins in food and eating habits, he said.
The Kansas Food Policy Council will provide nutritional education in homes and schools.
There are at least 11 states developing or working with already-established Food Policy Councils, including Oklahoma and Iowa. Some communities also have local Food Policy Councils, including Salina, Portland, Ore., Knoxville, Tenn., and Berkeley, Calif.
The Kansas Food Policy Council hopes to bring together government and private sector representatives from all aspects of the Kansas food system.
The council is being sponsored by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' administration. Nagengast is co-chair of the Governor's Rural Task Force.