P. Allen Smith, agriculture experts talk about popularity of local food sources

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | 10:50 a.m. CDT; updated 7:07 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — Gardening advocate P. Allen Smith discussed the increasing popularity of local food sources at a panel discussion Monday at MU.

An award-winning garden and design expert, Smith hosts two television shows that aim to teach farm-to-table gardening to viewers and is an advocate of the move toward local food production.

This national trend has been evident in Missouri, where the number of farmers markets has nearly doubled in three years, Missouri Department of Agriculture spokesman Charlie Hopper said.

Smith was joined by Missouri farmers and agriculture experts who weighed in on it.

Hopper said the move toward more local food sources comes from a rise in food awareness.

"We are a small piece of this worldwide revolution," he said. Two of the panelists were Missouri farmers, and many of the others practice organic or farm-to-table lifestyles.

"Food is medicine," said Melinda Hemmelgarn, a dietician who hosts "Food Sleuth" on KOPN. "The garden is at the heart of everything."

Although Missouri is one of the top 10 states with local growers, Smith said, the challenge is connecting farmers to consumers. Finding online information about farmers markets and local farmers remains a challenge, he said.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture created, a website that catalogs Missouri growers and markets. The site helps shoppers search for specific products, growers or markets in their area.

The website is frequently updated, Hopper said, but many markets remain unregistered.

Location is another challenge many farmers markets face. Most are held outdoors in large parking lots, which can force them to close during colder months, said Smith. Columbia's Farmers Market operates a winter market in the Parkade Center and opens for the spring in a lot behind the Activity and Recreation Center.

Dan Kuebler, a local grower and vice president of the Missouri Farmers Market Association, said many farmers markets struggle to find an enclosed shelter that allows them to stay open year-round. Columbia's Farmers Market had hoped for a permanent pavilion, but the plans stalled.

The availability of farmers markets is just one of the issues that the panel discussed. The speakers also touched on how to how to cultivate your own food in a garden and the importance of education programs in schools to teach children about local food.

Some of the organizations represented at the panel also offer free programs that provide tools, mentoring and classes to teach people how to create and tend to their own backyard gardens. The programs aim to provide access to fresh produce and information about how to prepare it, said Debby Campbell, executive director of Get Healthy DeSoto.

"It goes back to that education process, and it doesn't happen overnight," Campbell said. 

Campbell said the challenge is receiving the necessary funding to launch the  programs. Get Healthy DeSoto hosts two community gardens that rely on sponsors and the work of its garden master, Joe Bean, to remain operational. Campbell said the garden master is paid an annual stipend of $500.

Smith was in Columbia to celebrate 175th anniversary. In addition to the panel, he gave a presentation on Thomas Jefferson's gardens Sunday evening.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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