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Local food movement goes full throttle in 2013 with new programs at Cooperative Extension


Educators plan to beef up the local food movement in 2013, sending a bold message to promote vegetables, fruits and meat from farms in Jefferson and Lewis counties.

One man who will spread this message is Steven W. Ledoux, a beef farmer from Croghan who was hired in December by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. The hiring of Mr. Ledoux, who will be local foods community educator in Jefferson and Lewis counties, was made possible by a $95,883 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture farmers’ market promotion program.

Mr. Ledoux has been an agribusiness salesman since 1985 and for 13 years has managed his Croghan farm, where in May he launched a community-supported agriculture program in which customers establish contracts to receive fresh beef, pork, chicken and turkey year-round.

Bringing his experience in agribusiness into action, he has come to the extension office with plenty of ideas to link farmers with consumers, distributors and grocery stores that are seeking their food. To do so, he has teamed up with Amanda R. Root, community nutrition team coordinator, to launch a number of workshops centered on the locavore movement.

For example, in February, farmers will learn basics of using social media to market their products. Mr. Ledoux said that while farmers have a tendency to dismiss social media as a fad for younger people, launching a Facebook page or website can be an easy way to capture business.

It’s a lesson he’s learned firsthand this year by launching websites to promote his farm. Using Facebook, for example, farmers can update their customers about what crops they are growing to sell.

Mr. Ledoux said many families who are interested in eating healthy, locally grown food actively search for farms on the Internet.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people comment on Facebook,” he said. “This is something you almost have to do in this day and age to connect to the consumer.”

Additional workshops Mr. Ledoux has planned highlight how to market and brand products, how to price products, and the art of salesmanship, which will include tips on how to understand and talk with potential customers. His role at the extension office, he said, will be to bring educational resources on local food directly to farmers.

“I’m like a bridge who is bringing the nutritional side of a business that is important to consumers, and then connecting it with the agriculture side,” he said.

Mrs. Root, a community nutrition educator for 10 years, said that while the extension has focused on local food programs in the past, it now has the human resources and funding needed to spread its message to consumers, farmers, distributors and managers of grocery stores and restaurants.

Farmers who sell products also now have an opportunity to tap into the vast number of families in Jefferson County who receive food stamp benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. In 2012, the total value of food stamps collected in Jefferson County was $24,394,155. But at the same time, Mrs. Root said, only $8,127.55 in food stamp benefits were collected at local farmers’ markets that participate in the program. A workshop teaching farmers how to enroll in programs offered to low-income families will be hosted in February.

“Our thoughts are that if we can increase the number of farmers that accept benefits, we can keep this funding in the local economy,” she said. “The number of farmers who participate in this is very low right now, and there’s huge potential if they can tap into this food stamps market. The funding is going out of the economy right now, but we want to keep it here.”

Local grocery stores, including Hannaford and Price Chopper, are highly interested in collaborating with local farmers to sell fresh vegetables, fruits and meats. Mr. Ledoux said forming partnerships with grocery stores can be as easy as submitting an application and passing an inspection. At grocery stores, farmers’ products are stocked on shelves indicating where they were grown.

“Every grocery store I’ve talked to locally says they will work with farmers,” Mr. Ledoux said. “Price Chopper says they sell everything they get.”

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