Verde Valley Food Council will give a Valentine’s Day present to area farmers when it meets with food bank representatives and local food growers Monday, Feb. 14.
The We Love Our Farmers presentation at Mingus Union High School starts at 6:30 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to bring local growers together with “food system” representatives like restaurant owners, school lunch providers, hospital cafeteria operators and food bank volunteers, according to the council’s executive director, Debra Emmanuelle.
“We want to show our local farmers how much we appreciate them,” Emmanuelle said.
The council also wants the meeting to start a conversation among key food providers that leads to an increase in the amount of locally grown food, she said.
“In my dealings with different farmers, stores and restaurant owners, I kept hearing why we couldn’t grow more and distribute more locally, so I thought, ‘why don’t we get people together to brainstorm solutions?’” Emmanuelle said.
Farmers say they are not going to grow more because they don’t know if they have a market for their produce. Food system operators complain they can’t buy local food because there’s not enough produced here, she said.
Emmanuelle said she interviewed local farmers who say they have more land than resources to cultivate it. Conversely, there are others “who are just dying to have land to farm on,” she said.
Compared to times past, when much of the Verde Valley was tilled, roughly 5 percent of the area is used for agriculture today, Emmanuelle said.
“We will have to put the green back in Verde,” she said.
Ultimately, food system businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, school lunch programs and hospital food programs all need to commit to area farmers that they will buy as much locally grown food as possible.
The need for more locally-produced food is greater than ever before because of the dramatic rise in the number of people who need emergency food supplies. A recent study conducted by the council showed 1 in 7 Verde Valley residents do not have food security and must turn to food banks for assistance, Emmanuelle said.
In 2009, 15,000 people out of 72,000 Verde Valley residents were relying on food banks. Each bank is supporting more than 1,000 people per month, not including other emergency food providers like Meals on Wheels programs and local churches, Emmanuelle said. Nationally, 1 in 4 children lacks food security, she said.
“We need support from the farmers and food providers to keep up with the numbers,” she said. “The number of Verde Valley residents who rely on emergency food supplies increased by 50 percent every year since 2008.”
A Yavapai County Health Services spokeswoman for the Women, Infants and Children program will also attend the meeting to discuss what county government might be able to do to assist.
“Many of the roadblocks to grow and serve locally grown food come from government regulations that impose limits,” Emmanuelle said. “Having somebody from the health department to hear from people at the grassroots level could help.”