A movement is stirring in York County to bridge gaps between farms and forks, hoping to harvest a steady supply of healthy food for the area's underprivileged and underserved while also boosting the local economy.
"We've been trying to figure out ways to bring more food into York and make our food supply more sustainable," said Tia Underkoffler, 4-H urban educator for Penn State Extension.
To achieve that sustainability, she and local organizations are planning the first-ever York County Local Food Summit, scheduled for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 7 at the 4-H Center at 771 Stoverstown Road.
Underkoffler described it as "a big conference with 200 to 300 people having a conversation about local food challenges and opportunities.
"Most people don't sit down with the farmer who provides the food for their restaurant. This is a chance to do that," she said.
The summit is also a chance for local leaders to brainstorm ways to encourage Yorkers to buy fresh, local food while also creating better distribution systems to help that same healthy food reach the region's underprivileged. Still in their infancy, these goals are gaining a lot of local support.
Organizers include Buy Fresh Buy Local, Spoutwood Farm, Sunnyside Farm, the York City Health Bureau, YorKitchen and WellSpan.
"We know fruits and veggies are vital to heart health and help reduce type 2 diabetes and obesity. And keeping our farms working is good for the local economy and community as a
whole," said Joe Anne Ward-Cottrell, a health educator with WellSpan.
Inspired by a neighbor: WellSpan is also involved in the Adams County Food Policy Council -- a task force that aims to increase access to nutritious and affordable food, strengthen the local economy, influence food policy and foster educational partnerships in the community, according to Kim Davidson, member of the Adams council.
Underkoffler said local efforts were inspired by the Adams County council. Comparable organizations are also being planned in Chambersburg, Lancaster and Carlisle.
"We're encouraging all counties around us to come together for a regional take on this issue," Davidson said. "There's still a lot to be done to change a food system not working in everyone's favor."
Both Davidson and Underkoffler talk about closing the food gap, referring to vulnerable families ineligible for food stamps, but eligible for reduced lunches in schools. The number of those students serves as a good barometer for assessing the needs in a community, they said.
According to state records, 40 percent of students in York County are eligible for reduced lunches.
"We're trying to help families who struggle to make ends meet while providing them with opportunities for fresh, local food," Underkoffler said.
In demand: And the demand for local food is growing, said David Dietz, who manages Dietz Produce in Central Market using products from his family's farm in Hellam Township.
"In the last few years, a lot more people have been walking through Central Market, asking for locally grown food," he said.
That trend, combined with the planned summit, is "a good sign," he said. "If people spent $10 more a week locally, it would mean a huge impact to the York economy."
About 64 percent of York County is agricultural land, so farming is a big part of the local economy, said Doug Hoke, county commissioner.
But is there a chance for a food policy council in York like the one that exists in Adams County?
"I think there is," Hoke said.
"Promoting local, fresh food and collaboration between farmers and restaurants is great for our community and great for our economy," he said.
-- Reach Candy Woodall at firstname.lastname@example.org.