Long before Jamie Oliver came to Huntington the community and the school system were doing things to highlight the need for healthier food and lifestyles. Healthy Huntington was founded in 2003 with a mission to bring the Healthier US Initiative to the Tri-State area. The school system had taken steps to limit soda consumption and offer more nutritious meals. There were other efforts, but Jamie’s show put healthier food in the spotlight. The news is full of what has been done and is happening in the schools. Huntington’s Health Revolution has been formed with representation from individuals, community organizations, businesses, the health care industry, churches, media outlets, universities and more.
As a result of this activity a collaborative of civic and nonprofit groups has begun to form in the Huntington – Tri-State area whose vision is to develop a local food system. A local food system refers to the entire food value chain from the farmer’s field to the dinner plate. This includes producers, marketing agencies, input industries, processors, retailers, farmers markets, and consumers. Building a local food system means improving markets for local foods, increasing awareness of local food issues, and ensuring equitable access to ‘good food’ for all residents.
Some of the participating groups are interested in promoting the health aspects of eating locally produced foods. The vision includes teaching children and families to grow their own vegetables in community gardens throughout the city; teaching them how to cook that food in a healthy way at Huntington’s Kitchen (formerly Jamie’s Kitchen) and teaching them how to preserve that food for consumption during the winter months. The vision also includes providing access to healthy foods through Fresh Markets located around the city – especially in the economically depressed areas.
Others of the participating groups are interested in the economic development that will surely occur if more people begin to demand locally grown foods. The need for more producers and more market outlets will grow with that demand. An entire market segment will be developed that will include processing and aggregation of local food. Huntington is fortunate to have a commercial kitchen facility that is home to the Mountwest Community and Technical College Culinary Arts Institute and available to entrepreneurs who wish to develop specialty food products.
The collaborative will focus their work in the Tri-State area surrounding Huntington (roughly a 50 mile radius). The area includes Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Putnam, Mason, Jackson, Kanawha, Mingo, Logan and Boone counties in West Virginia. It would also include Lawrence, Scioto and Gallia in Ohio and Boyd and Greenup in Kentucky. The group will work with non-profits, County Extension Agents, USDA, civic groups and other organizations to develop a cohesive local food system.