Statewide Campaign Looks to Educate Citizens on Where to Buy the Best, Locally Grown Food

By Amir Vera, The Progress-Index

Citizens of the Tri-Cities now have the opportunity to buy the best quality food.

A guide, known as “Buy Fresh Buy Local” is currently in circulation at area farmers markets that informs residents and visitors where they can find the best quality, well-produced food in the area.

“It began as a way to connect farmers, who cannot get off of their land long enough to market their products to the general public,” said Cindy Hall, local representative for Buy Fresh Buy Local and owner of Mardelian Farm in Dinwiddie County. “That’s always a huge problem for farmers because of the fact that they are stuck, their job is on the land it’s a 24-hour a day job.”

Alisa Strunk, owner of Willows Bend Farm in Dinwiddie, agreed and said a lot of people just don’t know where to go for fresh, local food.

“We’re out here in Dinwiddie and don’t get a lot of exposure,” she said. “At the farmers market we get to speak to a lot of people, even if we don’t sell a lot of product we get to speak to people and hand out our business cards.”

Information from BFBL website states the campaign was launched in 2006 by the Piedmont Environmental Council, an organization whose mission is to protect the state’s rural economy, natural resources and history. There are nine chapters that all participate within the campaign, with the Tri-Cities located within the South Centre Corridor. In total, eight counties and three cities make up this region’s chapter and include: Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, Southampton, Surry, and Sussex counties as well as the cities of Emporia, Hopewell and Petersburg.

The Resource Conservation and Development Council, headed by Dan Lee of Dinwiddie, funds the BFBL campaign in this chapter.

“Each jurisdiction that we represent has a role in the local food movement by either having producers or consumers as citizens,” Lee said. “As we move forward we would like to help local farmers create markets and give consumers the ability to deal directly with that farmer so they will have more insight into where their food comes from. Hopefully the guide will continue to grow and add a section of restaurants that use locally grown foods next year.”

Hall said there are currently over 100 farmers and 21 farmers markets published in the BFBL guide.

“The community benefits because they can find these things. These things are hidden from them, not by meaning, but by the fact that people can’t know where everything is. You don’t know where to buy turnips or celery. This way, it’s kind of bringing it all together where you can meet. Telling you where the farmers markets are helps the community because it gives one place for these farmers to find out where to go to the markets,” she said.

Not only does BFBL help connect people and farmers, but it also has health benefits as well.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are a lot better for you than the ones you buy in the store,” said Ron Moyer, Petersburg farmers market manager.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fresh fruit and vegetables are full of antioxidants that fight heart disease and certain types of cancer as well as phytonutrients that assist with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

“With buying fresh and local, you’re getting a product that is fresher, you’re getting a product that is healthier for you because it doesn’t have to travel as far. So that means they don’t have to put chemicals on it for longevity. The items are actually picked fresh, which means it has time for the vitamins and nutrients to develop,” Hall said.

Kerry Giannotti, owner of Dolce Vita Farm in Dinwiddie who produces grass-fed chemical free beef, pork and chicken and rainbow trout, said people are doing more research into food today than ever before. He said this is why they are more concerned with what’s in their food.

“More people are beginning to understand that we are what we eat,” Giannotti said.

There are also economic benefits to farmers markets as well. On the USDA’s Top 10 Reasons to Shop at a Farmers Market, it is stated that buying fresh and local helps to keep money within the community. It also helps those localities known as food deserts, or urban areas that do not have as regular access to freshly grown food. Petersburg and Hopewell are both considered food deserts in the Tri-Cities.

“The benefits of the Buy Fresh/Buy Local guide are the most important to food deserts because these are the people that don’t even think to look for stuff like this. They don’t understand that they have more options because no one is presenting it to them,” said Melissa Thoner, market manager for the Hopewell farmers market.

Aside from the direct connection people are able to get with producers at these markets, farmers have also enjoyed the direct connection they have with one another.

“We farmers are so busy that we often don’t get the chance to socialize,” said Alisa Strunk, owner of Willows Bend Farm in Dinwiddie. “The [BFBL] guide allows us to network and refer farmers and products to people.”

Cindy Hall, BFBL representative, said getting people together is the overall goal of the campaign. She said she is confident that more farmers and markets will want to advertise in the campaign next year.

“Our next step is looking for restaurants to start using local food,” Hall said. “So we’re looking for restaurants to list that already do that and to increase the amount of restaurants in our area that go directly to farmers for their food and raw products.”