Baton Rouge, LA – Southern University Ag Center Interim Chancellor Dr. Adell Brown, Jr., Vice Chancellor for Extension Dr. Gina E. Eubanks, Agricultural Specialist Dr. Dawn Mellion-Patin and Senior Research Associate Mila Berhane were among the participants of a statewide Louisiana Local Food Stakeholder Roundtable.
The meeting, which was held at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, Ione E. Burden Visitor and Conference Center in Baton Rouge, La. on August 5, 2016, brought small farmers, Ag businesses, Ag universities and community groups together with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies to discuss the challenges facing Louisiana’s local farmer.
“A lot of consumes are asking to buy local and we see that as a huge opportunity for farmers and for businesses, but it’s not always easy to connect the dots and have that supply meet that demand,” said Elanor Starmer, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator.
During the discussion, some pointed out a lack of infrastructure/technology, labor, cooperation among farmers, assistance to young farmers and needed reforms to the Farm Bill as some of the challenges faced by the state’s local producers.
Dr. Patin voiced her concern of a lack of consistency among some small farmers.
“The trend is changing, we’re (the SU Ag Center) getting a lot of new and beginning farmers, but one of the challenges is that their acreage is so small and many of them grow a lot of different produce, so it’s not enough to provide to a consistent market where they would need to have a sustained level of volume,” explained Patin.
Dr. Eubanks addressed the issue of a lack of young people pursuing careers in the field of agriculture by sharing information on the SU Ag Center’s Jags-In-Ag and Beginning Agricultural Youth Opportunities Unlimited (B.A.Y.O.U.) Programs. Both programs are geared towards exposing college and high school students, respectively, to the career opportunities available in agriculture.
She also discussed the Center’s Urban Farm and Demonstration Garden and the Small Farmer Agricultural Leadership Institute, which has a strong partnership with the state’s USDA agencies.
“I really what you as clientele to understand that in the state – I’m not saying that we’re meeting your needs, frankly, we’re learning about your needs today,” said Craig McCain, Executive Director of Louisiana’s USDA Farm Service Agency.
“Let me be honest, we’re all learning about your needs but these are very diverse problems; from money, to infrastructure, to technology, to relationships, to education. So I just want to point this out; keep delivering what you’re doing, but know this, I’ll be willing to stand in this group of folks and say that we’re working on your behalf,” said McCain.
The meeting concluded with Starmer thanking everyone for their input and encouraging everyone in attendance to continue their work and to develop a relationship with the USDA.
“By bringing everyone here today in the room we were really able to get a sense of how things are connecting and where those gaps might be and figure out how, as federal officials, we can plug in a lot of the programs and services we have to fill some of those gaps because we are a very large institution. We have a lot of resources and sometimes it’s just a question of understanding what the needs are so we can identify the appropriate resources to support them,” added Starmer.
“I think we have a lot of work ahead of us to follow-up with folks and get them information about programs and hopefully they will take advantage of them and I’m really excited about what’s next,” she said.