Federal Grant Money Brings North Texas Farmers and Local Consumers Together

Reader Contribution by Rd Copeland
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Photo by Kathryn Hager, Little h Creative

The Downtown Wichita Falls Farmers Market is bustling with hundreds of customers and dozens of farm stand vendors three days a week, 80 supportive Texomans dined on locally produced and expertly prepared foods at the Long Table dinner in downtown Wichita Falls on a beautiful spring evening, and area restaurants are stocked with locally grown and raised foods. Farmers markets in Vernon and Graham just kicked off their Spring and Summer seasons, stocked with goods and produce from farmers in Young, Archer, Wilbarger, Wichita, and surrounding north Texas counties.

All of these local north Texas food happenings are the direct product of a US Department of Agricultural Marketing Service grant applied for, and issued thru Vernon College, by grant writer Monica Wilkinson, a local girl who returned to the Red River Valley after college and did what farmers love most: She made it rain. At least financially, if not literally, by bringing out more local consumers to buy their food directly off the farms at markets, in restaurants and at special events.

The $500,000 awarded to The Red River Valley Local Food Expansion Project was one of the highest amounts issued by the USDA grant program, was funded by Congress in 2016 to promote the farm to fork movement in the US, and has done for north Texas exactly what the program was designed to do: “The purpose of the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) is to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets by developing, and providing outreach, training, and technical assistance to, or assisting in the development, improvement, and expansion of, domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agritourism activities, and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities.” (https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/fmpp)


Photo by RD Copeland

Wilkinson, the City Planner in Vernon, and FMPP grant administrator, teamed up with Meg Filbey Heatly, an environmental law expert also from Vernon, to write the grant early in 2016 using Vernon College as their fiscal agent. The grant was awarded in September of 2016, and has since been a two-year endeavor to implement in north Texas, with one year remaining. Applying for a continuation of the grant is an option, but the entire program’s funding thru Congress is in jeopardy with its current membership.

Producer-to-consumer activities have included the Long Table dinner held in downtown Wichita Falls, hosted by the Vernon College Culinary Academy and downtown restaurateurs Christopher and Tagan Couch, owners of Gypsy Kit Cafe and Gypsy Uncorked. The dinner featured at least a dozen local farms and food producers including my own, Sunflower Farms (steamship round grass-fed beef), Young’s Greenhouses (vegetables), Morath Orchards (vegetables), 6th Street Winery (Malbec), Dry Valley Dairy (milk, cream, cheese) and bread baked by Chef Erika Colee and her culinary arts students at Vernon College.

Photo by RD Copeland

Feeding almost 80 local diners with foods produced right in their own backyards, and prepared by local chefs, puts the exclamation point on a successfully written grant, with community outreach being a key to the USDA program’s success.

“What began with a bunch of women wanting to bring their kids up with farmers markets and local, fresh food for us and our families to eat, turned into myself and my friend Meg applying for the grant,” Wilkinson said of their three-year effort to bring locally farmed foods to the plates of the Red River Valley. “When we were awarded the full amount, we were thrilled, and Vernon College has allowed us to see the project through to the end by hiring me as its coordinator.”

Photo by Kathryn Hager, Little h Creative

Downtown Wichita Falls Farmers Market manager Melissa Prigmore has sought out and brought in more farms and food makers to the market, with at least two dozen vendors on any given Saturday. The market is also open Tuesdays and Thursday, 7:30 AM to 1 PM. Three more Long Table dinners are planned for Wichita Falls, two in Vernon (1st one June 16), and watch for more special events at each of the area farmers markets.

For more information on Red River Valley farmers markets, area farms, upcoming events, and food service businesses involved in the local food efforts, contact Monica Wilkinson. mwilkinson@vernoncollege.edu.; www.rdcopeland.com (Sunflower Farms);
www.Farmersmarketwichitafalls.com;www.vernonfarmersmarket.com; www.downtownwf.com; www.visitgrahamtexas.com\events\2018\graham-farmers-market; www.visitgrahamtexas.com\events\2018\graham-farmers-market; www.thegypsykit.com; www.vernoncollege.edu\culinaryarts]www.vernoncollege.edu\culinaryarts; www.dryvalleyfarm.comwww.morathorchard.comwww.youngsorchard.com; www.sixthstreetwinery.com;www.coffeesandwine.com; www.gilbertcreekgardens.com; www.littlehcreative.com
Photos by Kathryn Hager: Little h Creative; Robert D. Copeland: #downtownwf #wffarmersmarket

RD Copeland lives in north Texas on his organic, all-natural farm and weekend retreat, The Sunflower. For more information, follow his blog on the Sunflower website at:  www.RDCopeland.com. Read all of RD’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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