FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Jane Hansen
Local Food Network Connects Farmers to Consumers
by Diahann Lohr
When nurseryman Adrian Lee wanted to donate 150 fruit trees, for the cost of grafting materials, to a school, food pantry or some other public entity, he sent word out via the Wisconsin Local Food Network (WLFN). He immediately received an overwhelming response.
“We at the Wisconsin Local Food Network like to think of ourselves as connectors,” says Jane Hansen, coordinator for the WLFN since 2007. “Our organization cares deeply about local food system development and we’re working to connect those who produce this food with those who consume it. I was pleased to see Adrian’s offer received a large response.”
The WLFN describes itself as a collection of people from around the state that cares about sustainable, equitable and resilient food. Originally its membership consisted primarily of farmers and government agency staff who serve them, but now it has grown to include chefs, food service directors, farm market managers, hospital administrators, educators, sustainability organizations and more.
WLFN’s primary role is communication. It provides industry news via its listserv and website, and since 2007 has hosted the Annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit, an educational and networking event that draws hundreds of farmers, distributers, consumers and advocates from throughout the state.
“More and more people want to eat locally grown food—food that’s been allowed to reach its full ripeness and therefore its full nutritional value,” says Hansen. “When we become more involved with local food, it raises our awareness and at the same time nourishes our bodies. Wisconsin has a wealth of this food, yet getting it from farm to table isn’t always easy.”
Members of WLFN are continuously researching ways to make local food accessible to a diverse population, from urban areas where farmers have a better chance of selling their produce, to rural areas where there are not only fewer consumers but also fewer specialty farmers. They’re also working to increase availability to local food in spite of Wisconsin’s short growing season.
“Farm stands, markets or CSAs used to be the only way farmers could sell their produce,” says Hansen. “Now we have distributor organizations such as the Wisconsin Food Hub and Fifth Season Cooperative that help farmers get their food into stores, schools and hospitals all around the state. We’re also connecting farmers with licensed commercial kitchens, such as the Farm Market Kitchen in Algoma and Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point, where they can create value-added products to expand the life of their crop. These kitchens allow farmers to test the waters before investing a lot of money.”
Currently exploring 501(c)(3) non-profit status, WLFN is funded solely by grants and solicited funds. Hansen is the organization’s only paid employee and its elected board of directors are all volunteers.
“Of course, funding tops our list of challenges,” says Hansen. “Everything we do is determined by our limited resources.”
Hansen suggests that people interested in local food check out WLFN’s website at wilocalfood.wordpress.com and from there join the listserv.
“And come to the 9th Annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit!” encourages Hansen. “It’s January 30-31 in Wisconsin Rapids. It’s the best place to discover a wealth of knowledge and gather face to face with people excited about local food.”
Diahann Lohr is a local food advocate who writes and designs from Watertown, Wis.