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All I Want for Christmas - A Local Foods Economy for Lawrence
As 2010 rolls around, I'm thinking about a lasting, useful, and appropriate gift for Lawrence and the region.
My checklist for a good gift to this area includes:
(1) something that fits this community as it is,
(2) that enhances what is already good about it,
(3) that helps attract and create some of the things that we want,
(4) that provides opportunities for wealth, health, happiness, and innovation, and
(5) that adds value and meaning for all of us, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most comfortable to the most at-risk among us.
All things considered, I think a good gift would be a robust, diverse, sustainable local food system.
This may sound like a trendy trinket found only at a Mass Street boutique (the few that are left). But to be clear, I'm not suggesting our food system or its economics should be entirely local - just that it could be more beneficial for the local community than it currently is.
And for what it's worth, I have heard people all over the area, from various neighborhoods, political persuasions, and vocations ask: What could a local food system do here?
During 2009, I have heard that question asked by:
- the County Commission and the newly formed Douglas County Food Policy Council,
- the City's Peak Oil Task Force,
- participants in this LJW's Health Commons web initiative,
- the Topeka offices of USDA Rural Development,
- teachers, staff, parents and school board officials,
- the Live Well Lawrence initiative,
- the Kansas City Food Policy Coalition,
- and participants in a recent farm/food exchange project with Saitama, Japan.
And I heard it in numerous places, such as:
- the Lawrence Originals/Lawrence GiveBack July 4th celebration in Watson Park,
- Lawrence Chamber of Commerce meetings,
- the Kaw Valley Local Foods Pioneers event at Liberty Hall,
- the new dining facility at the national corporate offices of Payless Shoe Source in Topeka,
- Lawrence Memorial Hospital,
- downtown restaurant kitchens,
- city planning meetings,
- meetings with major restaurant and retail developers in Kansas City,
- and the Slow Food Labor Day picnic in South Park.
That's one well-traveled trinket. And maybe more than just a trend. In fact, the whole local food-local economy connection is a hot topic nationwide.
That very question (local food's impact on the local economy) was recently the focus of the Washington Post blog "All You Can Eat".
That blog post references a recently released study, sponsored by The Wallace Center and funded by the Kellogg Foundation and the Gates Foundation, focused on "community food enterprises" in the U.S. and abroad. The results of that study provide a host of specific, entrepreneurial examples of local food businesses. I don't know anyone here who wouldn't find these examples interesting, appealing and downright inspirational. And, while I can identify lots of challenges and obstacles, I can't think of any real reasons why Lawrence, Douglas County, and the Kansas River region couldn't learn from and then exceed these examples.
Want to start checking whether this might be the right gift for our community?
Worried about how much local foods might cost? See this recent study by the Leopold Center at Iowa State University.
A glimpse of what our own Kansas River Valley region is capable of yielding (in terms of food production) can be found in this study by KSU Horticultural Professor Rhonda Janke.
Wondering how the current food economy is working for us? Check out this regional study by Ken Meter, economist at the Crossroads Institute. Here's the presentation in full.
So, if it could feed more of us, better; deplete or destroy fewer finite resources; make us healthier and more inter-connected; offer more opportunities for local innovation and wealth creation; keep much more revenue in our community and make it more resilient; and make Lawrence and the region more attractive to top-tier employers and workers, why wouldn't we put a more robust local foods economy on the gift list for our community?