FTGU-brand-logoBy Jann Wiswall 

As part of its local foods initiative, Southern Tier West (STW) is holding a Regional Farmers Market Summit on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, to explore how regional farmers markets can grow and contribute to economic development in the three-county region.

The summit, titled “Growing Our Regional Farmers Markets by (net)Working,” will bring together food system stakeholders, including farmers’ market managers and board members, food and product vendors, community health leaders, nutritionists, seniors’ health advocates, etc., to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of current markets, the opportunities for expansion that exist, and how any threats to expansion can be overcome.

“The goal of the summit is to look at where our area markets stand with relation to capacity and resources and to assess what might be keeping them from their greatest potential,” said Kim LaMendola, who serves as regional development coordinator of STW and is organizing the summit. “We’ll work with participants to develop and prioritize specific goals intended to help them build a stronger regional network of farmer’s markets in the region.”

Keynote speaker Jim Farr, who directs the City of Rochester’s highly successful Public Market — which won the 2010 Favorite Farmers Market of the Year award from the American Farmland Trust — will talk about the experiences, successes and challenges he faces while running a large, owner-operated enterprise that features healthy, farm-fresh, quality products that come direct from the producer.

The rest of the “roll up your sleeves” working meeting will be led by Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers Market Federation (FMF) of New York, who has developed a variety of programs and services to support and advance the farmers’ market industry in the state. Among other innovations, FMF has developed a commercial general liability insurance program for markets and participating vendors, market manager training programs, new market development in partnership with community organizations, market promotional programs, and a statewide farmers’ market wireless EBT program.

Eggert will lead the group through dialogue, assessment, network building, collaboration and planning for the future sustainability and vibrancy of the region’s farmers markets.

Participants will be treated to breakfast and lunch prepared by chef Sheila Darrow, an avid supporter of farmers markets who uses fresh, local ingredients whenever possible to prepare her delicious recipes. Participants are invited to donate food items toward the meals.

STW’s food system development work “is intended to increase sales and revenue opportunities for local food producers by strengthening existing markets, identifying and developing new markets, creating durable aggregation and distribution models, providing access to flexible capital and financing resources, fostering employment opportunities in agriculture and food production, and integrating the primary components of the food system so that local food can move easily from point of origin to a broadly diverse consumer base,” as stated in its 2012-13 annual report. Its projects over the past year include a comprehensive food hub study, development of a local food marketing plan, producer and consumer surveys, launch of a Farm to School to Institution Program, building partnerships with community health organizations, and collaborating with policy advocates and agriculture professionals.

Because of grant funding obtained by STW, registration for the Regional Farmers Market Summit is free, but pre-registration is required. Visit freshlocalny.org for more information and to register, or call (716) 945-5301.