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Huntington wants to boost local food economy through meal program

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Huntington is one of three new regions, and the first in West Virginia, that will soon strive to increase its local food economy through the 30 Mile Meal program.

The movement, started in Athens, Ohio, in 2010, supports the growth of local food markets within a 30-mile radius of the city, said Natalie Woodroofe, director of the Real Food, Real Local, Real Good Institute, which is the parent company of the 30 Mile Meal projects.

Woodroofe said the program welcomed new regions this year after they showed interest. The others are in Youngstown, Ohio, and another in Lincoln County, Ohio.

"Once you begin to immerse yourself in thinking about local food economies, the thing that makes sense is that we need them everywhere," Woodroofe said. "In that sense, it made sense to help other regions [that] were trying to build their local food economies."

The four 30 Mile Meal projects will grow throughout the year to include more regions and to create a collective "brand," she said.

With the 30 Mile Meal brand, locals and visitors can go to an area and identify where they can get foods that traveled no more than 30 miles, she said.

"When you think about how food moves toward most of us, it has been grown to be shipped. They're not picked when they're ripe," Woodroofe said. "It doesn't mean it's the tastiest tomato, it's the toughest-skinned tomato that can be shipped from California or Mexico and shipped to us."

Woodroofe and other organizers of the local project will host three informational meetings March 6 in Huntington for interested businesses, farmers and residents.

The first meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the Huntington Mayor's Conference Room at City Hall.

At 2:30 p.m., potential buyers and producers will meet at the Cabell Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau at Heritage Station.

A 6:30 p.m. meeting also will be at the visitors bureau for interested residents. All meetings are free and open to the public to ask questions and provide ideas.

"Huntington has some real opportunities. They were certainly put on the map with Jamie Oliver's show and they have the Wild Ramp store," Woodroofe said. "There's huge potential for Huntington to expand their local foods economy."

Gail Patton, executive director of Unlimited Future, a micro-enterprise development organization in Huntington, said the program would benefit businesses because they would get more recognition.

Woodroofe said 30 Mile Meal makes connections between buyers and producers.

Institutional buying of local foods, like hospitals and schools, is happening more often, she said.

Farmers markets, restaurants and farmers in Athens have "definitely seen an increase in their sales," she said.

"It's really a way to increase the earnings of those people" who are affiliated with local food business, Woodroofe said, "and also to build consumer awareness of the impact of spending your food dollars locally."

In the last year, four restaurants have opened and partnered with 30 Mile Meal to source their meals locally in Athens.

The program now works with 25 restaurants and 150 food partners, but Woodroofe said her goal is to have even more businesses participating.

The Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is part of the collaboration, has a 30 Mile Meal map on its website to show where farmers, eateries, nonprofits and more are located in that area.

"My dream is that, in five years we begin to have these overlapping circles. Athens is the epicenter of our 30 Mile Meal project, which almost begins to touch Huntington," she said. "I could imagine we have these 30-mile circles covering Ohio and West Virginia and central Appalachia."

For information, call Patton at 304-412-3171 or email huntington30milemeal@gmail.com.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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