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Could a $5 a Week Campaign, Austrian Food Elevate Sun Valley’s Food Scene?
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The Hunger Coalition has distributed a million pounds of food, including pet food, since 2003.
 
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County has consistently risen to the top of one list you don’t want to be on.

It consistently boasts anywhere from the fifth to the eighth most expensive food costs in the nation.

But that can be reversed, one of the most experienced food system analysts in the United States told representatives of The Hunger Coalition, Local Food Alliance, Wood River Farmers Market and other organizations Thursday.

No other place has such extreme wealth inequality and yet the resources to make it better, said Ken Meter, of the Minnesota-based Crossroads Resource Center: “You’re a small enough community that people have relationships. You extremely privileged and advantaged and you could do something that would be a shining example if you focus on what you can do with the assets you’ve got and maximize them.”

Meter has visited Blaine County five times during the past year in his efforts to help the Blaine County Food Council, Local Food Alliance, The Hunger Coalition and University of Idaho develop a strategic plan. During those visits he talked with 61 farmers, grocers, chefs, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, educators and other stakeholders.

He noted the efforts of Judy and Fred Brossy who started an organic farm 25 years ago.

“It would be nice if local food distribution wasn’t just for the elite,” Fred Brossy told him.

Meter also noted how Atkinsons’ Market had opened its Ketchum store in a former gambling casino in 1956 with the help of investors George and Peggy Kneeland and the Kilpatrick Brothers.

Everyone said it wouldn’t last a year, Chip Atkinson told Meter. Now the Atkinsons own three stores, donates thousands of dollars a year to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and other local causes and try to buy local.

“When we put local stuff on the shelves it sells,” Peter Atkinson told Meter.

Squash Blossom Farms provides Community Supported Agriculture packages to 50 homes a year, in addition to selling produce at the Ketchum Farmers Market, Atkinsons’ Kraay’s Market and some restaurants.

The Konditorei’s Matt Robinson is among the restaurateurs who buy local as much as possible. And the Hillside Ranch near Timmerman Hill just started a new Hillside Grain flour mill after the prices of malt barley and alfalfa began slipping. The Stevensons also are exploring the feasibility of a malting operation or research lab.

There’s other great innovation going on, as well, Meter said.

The Nature Conservancy is helping farmers test the feasibility of growing quinoa here.

Loganics’ Jamon Frostenson has developed a greenhouse insulated with structural insulated panels and illuminated by high-efficiency LED lights that can withstand Fairfield’s bitterly cold winters without manufactured heat.

Larry and Sherry Kraay have channeled $200,000 income per year for 50 farmers in the region by picking up their food and delivering that food to consumers, marking it up only 25 percent versus the 30 percent or 40 percent markup that is customarily charged.

The key to all of these things, Meter said, is developing relationships within the community, which develops resiliency in times of hiccups.

Meter’s action plan:

  • Ensure all residents have access to healthy foods produced on farms in Blaine and Camas counties and the Magic Valley farms.
  • Ensure that farmers are well compensated for their work.
  • Ensure that those farmers’ food is affordable to all consumers in the region.
  • Build capacity.

    “There’s the will but not the coordination,” he told those attending the meeting at Hailey’s Community Campus.

    A $5-a-Week campaign could be a simple first step to take, Meter said. Colorado has an Eat 5, Buy $5 campaign encouraging locals to eat at least five locally produced fruits, vegetables and other foods a week.

    If each Blaine County resident bought $5 of food directly from local farmers each week, local farmers would earn $5.7 million

    “That doesn’t seem ridiculous,” said Meter.

    Other steps:

  • Unify the community foods coordination, something that started with the new Blaine County Food Council.
  • Brand the region for something that’s unique. One community, for instance, grows scads of cabbage, with restaurants competing with one another to come up with sauerkrauts containing everything from sausage to lavender.

    Perhaps, Sun Valley might draw on its Austrian heritage to come up with a line of Austrian-inspired foods, Meter said. “Brand with whatever’s easy and reliable to grow.”

  • Formalize a wholesale produce partnership.
  • Solidify the status of the Wood River Farmers Market. In 2018 the Ketchum Farmers Market netted a record $450,000 in sales, $141,000 more than the year before, said Stacy Whitman of the Local Food Alliance.

    But the Hailey Farmers Market has shrunk. And Meter said he is worried about the new location of the Ketchum’s Farmers Market, which will be held outside River Run Lodge this summer, as it could seem  divorced from Ketchum.

    The Tucson Food Bank supports its farmers market, he added, by buying produce there and selling it at  low cost to clients.

    Larry Schoen noted that he could grow 25 acres of root vegetables but the infrastructure for getting that to market doesn’t exist. That’s why everything is on a small scale, he said.

    One thing that’s needed is more warehousing and processing space, Meter noted.

    Perhaps, those looking for more warehouse space, including Kraay’s and Atkinsons’, could team up, he said. And food processors could start with underutilized church and school kitchens to determine what is needed before building a stand-alone facility.

    Meter said Blaine County residents also need to address the social issues that create the need for 19 percent of the county’s residents to seek help from The Hunger Coalition.

    Personal income among residents of the county has increased 14-fold since 1969, but that’s come primarily from earnings on interest, dividends and rental properties. Income from other sources is flat  or rising slowly.

    One million dollars’ worth of SNAP benefits come in every year because people don’t have enough to eat. SupplementalNnutrition Assistance Program benefits are the foremost source of net food dollars for Blaine County

    Blaine County consumers buy $63 million of food each year--$36 million of that to be cooked and consumed at home.

    But farmers’ incomes are slightly lower than 1969, even though farmers have doubled production. Cash receipts for Blaine County farmers totaled $35 million last year.

    “Reach out to nearby farmers to sell at your Farmers Market or they will go to larger markets in Bo9ise and Sale lake City,” Meter warned.

    WHY LOCAL FOODS?

  • Purchasing directly from local farmers allows you to get to know the people who grow your food.
  • A shorter distance from field to plate means less dependence on fossil fuels and reduced air pollution.
  • Fruits and vegetables grown locally are picked when ripe and are therefore tastier and more nutrient rich.
  • Money spent on local food is reinvested with businesses in the community.
  • Purchasing food locally helps ensure farmers’ viability and keep them farming instead of selling their land to developers.
  • Growing food locally ensures there will be food during disasters that might prevent outside food from being shipped in.

Want to learn more? Contact amy@sunvalleyinstitute.org or stacy@sunvalleyinstitute.org.

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