YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Youngstown is working hard to promote local food and a farm-to-table approach to healthy eating.
On Wednesday, the federal government recognized those efforts by selecting the city for the new “Local Foods, Local Places” initiative. Youngstown is one of 26 communities picked from 316 applicants by a team of federal agencies.
As part of Wednesday’s announcement, representatives toured the Kitchen Incubator on Elm Street, which is just one part of a grand plan to develop a “green business district” on the north side.
The Youngstown Kitchen Incubator is still a work in progress. It has been open for about a year and is filled with used equipment getting a second life, including a 40-gallon kettle from the Austintown Local School District.
“You can rent time here which is much, much cheaper than setting up your own commercial kitchen. So you can work in a licensed facility and sell your food,” Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. Land Reuse Director Liberty Merrill said. “Certainly the goal is to use local foods to drive the economy here. That’s a lot of what the partnerships here, with all of the organizations have been about, creating jobs in the local food system.”
A lot of things are happening to build an economy around local food.
“Local food is great because food really brings people together. It’s really about sharing food with people, about your family and all those things. It’s really something that everybody can support,” Merrill said.
She said dollars that get spent on food go back into the community.
People can do everything at the Kitchen Incubator, from baking cookies and making soups to growing greens and herbs. It offers an answer to the challenge of growing a local food system, which is the processing of commodities.
“Help small entrepreneurs access the facilities at scale so they’re able to meet that increasing market demand,” USDA Deputy Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien said.
O’Brien said this helped set Youngstown’s application apart. It brings together local food partners and the region’s agricultural assets.
“That will help them build on the great foundation and the vision of the local community and grow that vision to get better outcomes for the community,” O’Brien said.
And that vision already is in the works. In January, the Elm Street Café will open next to the Kitchen Incubator.
And in late spring, the Lake-to-River Food Cooperative will open across the street. Both will sell food made and grown in Youngstown.
“We don’t have anything in the local neighborhood and a lot of these people have to ride a bus and transfer buses to do their shopping. And now they can just walk to the store,” Jim Converse of Common Wealth Regional Development said. “It will be a neighbor-oriented grocery store but also will carry a lot of organic and naturally-grown products for people that don’t want to have to drive to Cleveland or Pittsburgh to find those things.”
The Lake-to-River Food Cooperative grocery store will sell items produced at the Kitchen Incubator, such as jams, jellies, sauces, soups and salads grown locally, as well as convenience items so people don’t have to go to a chain store like CVS.
Converse also is the manager of the Youngstown Farmers Market.
He hopes to connect more to the Youngstown State University campus and students.
“Help them kind of relearn what good local food is or learn for the first time in many cases. They’re a fast food generation and they’re going to be fat and die before their parents do probably in some cases,” Converse said.
He said the effort takses a positive approach to being healthy and eating healthy, noting there is a lot of growth downtown with restaurants, but he wants to bring that growth to other neighborhoods like the north side.
It is efforts like these that got Washington’s attention and will propel this movement into the future.
“Well it is putting feet on all the rhetoric about local food,” Converse said.
“This is about, how does the federal government work with local communities to help them achieve their dreams in a very simple, straightforward manner,” Appalachian Regional Commission Federal co-chair Earl Gohl said.
The “Local Foods, Local Places” grant has two parts. The first is technical support with access to experts and information. There will be a workshop and a planning report issued.
The Appalachian Regional Commission will provide $20,000 to help make those goals reality. But the award is more about expertise and assistance and less about money.
The timeline is all up to the local groups involved in the process.