A panel of agricultural experts tasked with helping Kansas cash in on the farm-to-table movement is asking legislators for more time to fulfill its mission.
Members of the Local Food and Farm Task Force say they’ve spent the last year digging into a broad range of issues and now want another year to work on specifics.
Ron Brown, a Fort Scott vegetable farmer who chairs the task force, has asked Kansas House and Senate agriculture committees to approve Senate Bill 314, which would give the task force until July 2017 to study how the state’s food sales tax, food safety regulations and other issues hamper small-scale producers.
They’re serious topics worthy of further study, Brown said, because lack of access to fresh produce has consequences for the state.
“The vast majority of Kansans don’t eat healthy,” Brown told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee last week.
The estimated cost of extending the task force for another year is about $8,500.
Kevin Walker, regional vice president of advocacy for the American Heart Association, sat in on Brown’s presentation Tuesday to the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Walker said the task force has “done amazing work digging into important issues” in the past year and deserves more time to form detailed recommendations.
“We get clean, healthy food to Kansans who are tasked with feeding the world.”- Rep. Adam Lusker, a Democrat from Frontenac
There’s a misconception that rural Kansans have ready access to fresh, healthy foods because agriculture is such a central part of their economy, he said. Most of what is grown in Kansas are commodity crops like wheat and corn, though, so many fruits and vegetables have to be imported.
“We do have a serious problem in our rural areas,” Walker said.
Brown said that as rural grocers close, Kansans’ diets rely more on nutrient-poor, calorie-dense processed foods.
When told that St. John, a town of 1,300 near Hutchinson, will soon lose its only grocery store, Brown said it could be “very detrimental” to both the financial and physical health of the town’s residents.
He told the Senate committee about a northeast Kansas grocer who initially was wary of hosting a farmer’s market in his parking lot because he viewed it as competition. But the grocer discovered that the market actually increased his midweek business, and he was able to purchase some of the unsold produce at the end of the day for a good price.
“That’s a success story; a win-win thing,” Brown said. “I wish we could do more of those things.”
Rep. Adam Lusker, a Democrat from Frontenac who sits on the task force, said Kansas is behind other states when it comes to capitalizing on the growing demand for local foods.
There’s financial benefit in it for producers, he said, and health benefits for the state as a whole.
“We get clean, healthy food to Kansans who are tasked with feeding the world,” Lusker said.