March 30, 2016
On Monday, March 21 and Tuesday, March 22, over 100 local residents participated in a two-day workshop that has developed Weakley County’s first ever Local Food Network. Round-table facilitated discussions identified local foods and local place-making initiatives in Weakley County. The community forum on Monday at the Purple Iris in Dresden included a locally sourced dinner and dessert, presentations and interactive discussions that have started a community conversation about existing resources and opportunities around strengthening our local food system, fostering economic development, creating a Weakley County Local Food Network and promoting better public health outcomes.
In collaboration with the Local Food Network Steering Committee and the Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center (NTEC), the Cities of Martin and Dresden applied for the technical assistance program. Chosen from more than 300 applicants nationwide, Weakley County was selected as one of 26 counties in the nation to be a part of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Local Foods, Local Places technical assistance program for 2016. This is a federal initiative to provide technical assistance to communities interested in advancing local food systems and livability goals. From the productive conversations had during the forum about how to help strengthen our local food system and local community economies, a plan of action is being developed to share with the community at large by May 2016.
Samantha Goyret, Program Administrator at NTEC and Director of the Weakley County Local Food Guide noted, “The purpose of the Local Food Network is to create an effective network of producers, consumers, businesses and organizations who share information and facilitate conversation, connection and collaboration that are working toward a stronger local and regional food system to create a healthier, more vibrant local economy.”
The forum was sponsored by NTEC, the University of Tennessee at Martin Department of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, the City of Dresden, and the City of Martin. Food and drink donations were received from the Steele Plant Company sweet potatoes, Vine & Branch Farm blueberries, Reed Angus Farm pecans, Black Oaks Gourmet Sauce, and Pepsi water. The locally sourced dinner was prepared by Chad’s Smokehouse with pulled pork from Sunnyside Farm and James P Special Recipe BBQ Sauce. A variety of pecan and blueberry desserts was prepared by Jo Ps Sweet Treats.
Community members, farmers, school officials, public health professionals, business owners, non-profit representatives, city and county staff, university representatives, and other interested stakeholders are encouraged to continue their participation in the Local Food Network themed “Using Food to Build Community” Forums planned in 2016. The next Local Food Network community forum is currently being planned through the Local Food Network Steering Committee in October of 2016.