Mississippi Local Food When you visit a farmers market, not only do you get up close and personal with some delicious Mississippi fruits and vegetables, you also come face-to-face with the men and women who grow them. And when you know who’s producing your food and who’s buying it, you’ve got more than just an exchange of goods. You’ve got a partnership. In the Hospitality State, farmers markets are just one of the ways the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) builds local food partnerships. And MDAC isn’t alone in its efforts to provide opportunities for local farmers and healthy, nutritious foods for consumers. Another public sector initiative is the Farm-to-School Program, administered by the state Department of Education in conjunction with MDAC. Priscilla Ammerman, director of purchasing and food distribution for the Department of Education, says of the nearly $2.5 million in federal funds the state receives for fresh food and vegetable purchases, nearly $300,000 is spent on Mississippi-grown products each year. “We collaborate with the Department of Ag to identify farmers who have the safety certifications and who can produce the products in the volume that we require,” says Ammerman. “Together, we determine what’s available to purchase, we send those choices to the schools and then they choose which ones they want and in what quantities. It’s an excellent opportunity for the schools to use the dollars to bring low-cost Mississippi-grown products to their school. And it’s something they’re enthusiastic about doing.” MDAC developed the website farmtoschoolweek.org to provide resources to teachers and food service directors to use during Farm to School Week and throughout the school year. Eat Healthy Mississippi A private-public partnership that kicked off in January 2012 is also impacting the local food movement. Eat Healthy Mississippi, a joint effort of MDAC and the Mississippi Hospitality & Restaurant Association, is an initiative to bring more locally grown products to local restaurant menus. Mike Cashion, the association’s executive director, says the group’s initial objective was to introduce local farmers to local restaurateurs across the state and facilitate the establishment of those relationships. “The next step is to flesh out the details of what products can be incorporated into restaurant menu items,” says Cashion. “To do that, we have to create recipes that meet a particular nutritional component.” Cashion explains that through a partnership with the National Restaurant Association, the Eat Healthy Mississippi program can provide the nutritional analysis restaurants need at a dramatically reduced rate via the HeathyDiningFinder.com website. Educating consumers about new restaurant items and about how to use this website will also be key to the success of the Eat Healthy Mississippi initiative. “We need to make sure we have the programs and systems in place to enhance the relationships between growers and restaurants,” says Cashion. “These relationships are vital. The challenge is how do we get more restaurants and more growers involved. It’s a whole new venture for lots of folks, and it will require equal doses of patience, persistence and creativity.”

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