SHERIDAN — Local growers may soon have help addressing problems like funding and getting their produce to market.
The Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Local Foods Task Force started earlier this year. While the task force is still in the development stages, Landon’s Greenhouse and Nursery grower Donald Legerski said its goal is to focus on the “sovereignty of choice.”
“You can choose whatever you want to do,” Legerski said. “…However, I’m still going to work at giving you choices and those who choose to grow in their backyard for their families, or grow for production for their communities — Sheridan Local Foods Task Force…what we want to do is support that entity or support that family.”
Legerski said less than 1 percent of the total population in Sheridan County actually seeks out local foods on a regular basis, while others get tired of putting in the effort it takes. Local foods become a sort of fad in the warmer months, which leaves Legerski wondering if the task force is something that’s even needed.
“Then in November through February the trend ends, the store shuts down, the grower stops; so do we even need this,” Legerski said. “We believe we do. We know there’s others out there that want to put in energy.”
Currently the task force has a memorandum of understanding with the Chamber of Commerce and is developing a strategic plan.
According to the strategic plan draft, the task force plans to work with both the producers and consumers to strengthen the local foods market.
“This project enhances the opportunities for direct producer to consumer sales of foods in Sheridan County, Wyoming, and assists producers in increasing their profitability and sustainability,” the draft says. “…The small population requires the educating of consumers of the value of local foods in order to develop a market to sustain producers.”
Ultimately, the task force aims to be a nonprofit. The strategic plan says nonprofit status would allow it to apply for grants to help producers; grants like the Wyoming State Season Extension block grant, which is only available through nonprofit organizations.
Co-owner of Lower Piney Heirloom Vegetable Gardens Rachel Bourgault said she thinks the task force would benefit the county.
“We have a lot of people who grow things and I think a lot of food in people’s gardens goes to waste,” Bourgault said.
She said markets need a steady supply of produce and the more people buy, the more growers can produce. Additionally, she said she thinks the task force gives growers validation by visiting gardens and seeing how they produce.
The task force will continue to discuss its relevance and next steps this fall and during a town hall discussion as part of the Sheridan Local Foods Harvest Moon Festival in September.