Report provides insight into area’s food system
Lawrence — A new report provides a smorgasbord of information about the food system in Douglas, Jefferson and Leavenworth counties.
The report, from the Douglas County Food Policy Council, shows everything from where we grow our food to how much we spend. It also pointed how much we like to eat fats and sweets over fruits and vegetables.
“It’s a health issue and economic opportunity for our area,” said Eileen Horn, who provides staff support for the council and is Douglas County sustainability coordinator.
The 20-member council, which was formed two years ago, wanted a better understanding of the food system, and so it joined forces with Kansas State University researchers to compile the report, “Building A Deep-Rooted Local Food System.” The report took a year to complete and cost about $2,000. It was released this week in conjunction with national Food Day, which promotes healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.
Horn said the council was not surprised to learn that the number of farms dropped 32 percent from 1950 to 2007 in the tri-county area, and for those farmers left, a majority have a second job as their main income.
“So here, like everywhere else, it’s difficult to make a living at farming,” Horn said.
But, there were some “aha moments” she said:
• The gap between what we are producing and eating based on food receipts is larger than expected. We spend $392 million on food each year and 42 percent of that is at local restaurants and businesses.
• We lack food processors. The majority of the area’s licensed processors are making “gift foods” like jams, chocolates, tofu and wines. “These are things that the typical American family doesn’t depend on,” Horn said. “If a farmer were to grow a crop of potatoes or carrots for the school system, there is no one here to turn them into french fries or dippable carrot sticks for kids.”
• There are 10,000 low-income residents who do not have adequate access to healthy foods according to U.S. Department of Agriculture standards.
From the report, the council has outlined four areas it plans to focus on:
• Preserve high-quality land for agriculture use.
• Increase and incentivize local production and consumption of fruits, vegetables, poultry and dairy products.
• Attract food processing businesses.
• Establish economic development incentives for grocers who locate in low-access neighborhoods. In addition, support the expansion of farmers’ markets, community gardens and mobile trucks that sell produce.
Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she was thrilled with the report.
“We now have a comprehensive resource for understanding our local food system, and a road map for improvements,” she said. “Anyone in our community interested in the links between agriculture and economic development, environmental protection, food security and improved health will benefit from the findings of this report.”
Among the findings:
• 3,380 — farms in tri-county area, down from 5,180 in 1950.
• 107,102 — acres of soybeans were planted in tri-county area, which was the largest crop, followed by 83,578 of corn and 31,229 of wheat. The smallest was vegetables at 386 acres and 158 of orchards and berries.
• $71 million — spent on meats in tri-county area, followed by $55 million on fruits and vegetables, $42 million on cereals and $36 million on dairy.
• $2.4 million — worth of fruits and vegetables sold in tri-county area.
• $53.4 million — worth of livestock sold in tri-county area.
• 12,541 — hogs produced in tri-county area, but we consume 73,436.
• 5,672 — chickens produced in tri-county area, but we consume 6.4 million.
• 10 — acres of potatoes are produced in tri-county area, but we consume 1,044 acres.
• 2,475 — dairy cows supply milk in tri-county area, but we need 3,631 to meet demand.
• 83,578 — acres of corn are planted in area, but we need only 909 to meet demand for corn products.
• 46 — state-licensed food processors in area.
• 4 — farmers’ markets in tri-county area.
• 6.77 — ounces of meat consumed per day by average American. FDA recommends 5.5 ounces.
• 28.7 — teaspoons of sugar consumed per day. FDA recommends 16.7 teaspoons.
• .84 — cups of fruit consumed per day. FDA recommends 2 cups.
— To view the full report, visit the Douglas County’s website at www.douglas-county.com/sites/fpc.