Ralph Kile, owner of Scarecrow Farm, Hopewell Township, looks at a display by Horn Farm Center during the York County Local Food Summit on Wednesday.
Ralph Kile, owner of Scarecrow Farm, Hopewell Township, looks at a display by Horn Farm Center during the York County Local Food Summit on Wednesday. (Bill Kalina photo)

Holding a stack of papers, Joe Anne Ward-Cottrell shared the grim details of statistics that could not be denied.

She said just 3 percent of people surveyed had consumed three servings of fruits and vegetables the day before they participated in a research project conducted by the Food Availability Task Force, an effort designed to create community change, establish strategic partnerships and educate York residents about accessing and consuming nutritious foods.

"With fruit and veggie consumption so low in the county, we're also seeing chronic illness rates on the rise," said Ward-Cottrell, a health educator at WellSpan.

Part of the reason York County residents are buying fewer fruits and vegetables is because they can't afford them, she said. When asked about financial challenges, 18 percent of those surveyed said they were stressed about paying for food during the past year.

It's an even greater problem in York City, which has a 37 percent poverty rate. Half of those who live in poverty with limited access to nutritious food are children younger than 18, according to the data.

That food insecurity is linked with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, Ward-Cottrell said.

In York County, 66 percent of respondents said they are overweight or obese, 39 percent said they have high cholesterol, 34 percent said they have high blood pressure, 20 percent said they have a depressive disorder, and 9 percent said they are diabetic.

To offer relief to such problems and create better access to healthy foods, a group of local leaders on Wednesday hosted the first-ever York County Local Food Summit at the York County 4-H Center.

"The goal is to start a conversation at the grassroots level and become a more sustainable food system," said Tia Underkoffler, who organized the event and serves as the urban 4-H educator for the York County Penn State Extension.

It's also part of a food revolution, said Rob Wood, co-owner of Spoutwood Farm in Glen Rock.

"More people are concerned and interested in the local food system. There's increasing public demand to know where their food comes from. They want to feed healthy food to their kids. They're not passive about what goes into their bodies," he said.

Several local vendors set up at the event, displaying their locally-grown products, including Saubel's Markets.

Locally owned and operated since 1926, Saubel's Markets has two York County locations in Shrewsbury and Stewartstown, and one store in Whiteford, Md.

"Being locally owned and operated that many years, it was important for us to be at an event like this," said Betti Saubel, who is part of the fourth-generation ownership of the company. Standing behind a table of local products, she said the chain of markets buys local whenever it can.

"My father-in-law always said to feed the hand who feeds you," Saubel said.

York County, and Pennsylvania in general, is at an advantage, according to Ann Palmer, director of the Eating for the Future Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Pennsylvania has a really strong, local food infrastructure. Most other states' have been dismantled," she said.

Perhaps the best advantage of local food hubs is that they are economic drivers, Palmer said. "Local food is not always the answer to everything. Even if it is, it's hard to prove local food is more nutritious. So let's talk about what it does do well and why it's working," she said.

- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkfdispatch.com.