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Huntsville Times: Food for thought on boosting Alabama’s economy

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HUNTSVILLE, Alabama _ There’s an untapped industry in Alabama that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and is as close as our dinner plate.

It’s the local farm economy, and efforts are under way to tap into it.

That interest was evident Thursday night at a packed public meeting to hear national food system expert Ken Meter explain an exhaustive study he did for the North Alabama Food Bank. The study of seven area counties looked at what area farmers are producing and how the vast majority of food that we buy comes from far away places – often from other continents.

In fact, only 10 percent of the milk and dairy products area residents consume, 7 percent the vegetables and 2 percent of the fruits come from this area.

If North Alabama residents purchased just 15 percent of their food for home use directly from North Alabama growers at farmers markets, co-ops and other outlets that carry local meats and produce, $214 million in new income would be generated.

Consumers spend $2.4 billion for food annually in North Alabama. Since the bulk of it is shipped in, $2.2 billion of that flows outside the region to the network of handlers that got it here, he said. That makes for an inefficient system that wastes energy and often compromises nutrition and food safety.

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“The current food system takes worth out of our communities,” Meter told the audience of farmers, nutritionists, health experts, organic growers, business people and others.

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