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Wyandotte County and KC region selected for healthy food initiative

Designation as a Growing Food Connections “Community of Opportunity” will help local governments strengthen food systems

After a highly competitive process, Wyandotte County and the Kansas City metropolitan area have been selected as one of eight Communities of Opportunity across the nation that will receive training and assistance to create stronger policies and programs to connect family farmers with local residents who lack access to healthy food.

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, and other local governments in the region, working through the Mid-America Regional Council, will participate in the Growing Food Connections (GFC) initiative, which is designed to help local governments create plans, policies and partnerships to strengthen their food systems.

Increasingly, communities in the Kansas City region and across the nation are looking for ways to improve access to healthy food, support area farms, and stimulate local economies. “For far too many of our residents, fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods are out of reach,” said Mark Holland, Mayor/CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas. “It’s a huge public health issue, and we’re looking forward to finding some new ways that we can help people live healthier lives.”

Work at the regional and local level to increase access to healthy food and local food production — led by the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, Healthy Communities Wyandotte, Cultivate KC, local public health departments and others — positioned the Kansas City area to be selected as a Community of Opportunity. At a conference on “Farmland, Food and Livable Communities” held in Lexington, Kentucky, last October, a group representing the Kansas City region — including Unified Government Commissioner Brian McKiernan, Healthy Communities Wyandotte Program Coordinator Joanna Sabally, and Harvesters Policy Advisor Karen Siebert — shared information about local and regional efforts underway to increase access to local healthy food and how local governments have supported those efforts.

“We have a lot of great programs already underway in this region,” said McKiernan, “but we can do so much better. By working with Growing Food Connections, we’ll be able to take advantage of national expertise to learn what we can do at the policy level to make a difference.”

As a Community of Opportunity, the Kansas City region will receive evidence-based and in-depth customized assistance and training over a three-year period. Wyandotte County, through Healthy Communities Wyandotte, hopes to use the technical resources provided by Growing Food Connections to prepare a county-wide food systems plan, and MARC will work with a number of local governments to consider how plans and policies could increase support for local farm production and sales.

The other Communities of Opportunity selected are Chautauqua County, New York; Cumberland County, Maine; Dougherty County, Georgia; Doña Ana County, New Mexico; Douglas County, Nebraska; Luna County, New Mexico; and Polk County, North Carolina.

“We are thrilled to partner with these eight communities,” said Julia Freedgood, assistant vice president for programs at American Farmland Trust, who leads Growing Food Connections’ outreach to Communities of Opportunity as one of the project’s principal investigators. “We selected them based on need, desire and readiness for change, and we are very excited about working with your community’s name to help develop a vision and a game plan to support sustainable agriculture and community residents who are underserved by our current food system.”

Growing Food Connections is a five-year, $3.96 million research initiative funded by award #2012-68004-19894, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For more information, contact Joanna Sabally, Healthy Communities Wyandotte, at 913-573-6733, or Marlene Nagel, Mid-America Regional Council, 816-701-8218.

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