For decades Lyon County has struggled with a lack of fresh food availability in rural areas of the county. The term food desert was often used to describe the 8 rural communities outside the County Seat of Emporia. Both North and South Lyon County were home to small towns with either no food availability, or only convenience store food items for purchase.
A longtime goal of Healthier Lyon County has been to help residents in those areas access fresh food more easily, but we struggled to find a sustainable way to make this happen or funding and partnerships to get started. Pathways to a Healthy Kansas was an immense support in this area, encouraging us to think of ways to use existing resources and know-how to move forward. We created a conversation and eventually a partnership with the Emporia Farmers Market, using their existing knowledge, vendors, and successes to establish markets in two rural communities: Americus in the north, and Olpe in the south.
Pathways to a Healthy Kansas provided over $20,000 to fund the initial materials needed to set up these markets including staff time, registers, and vendor scholarships for those willing to travel to rural markets. Adding to the sustainability of the effort, contact was made with schools in the communities to plan a curriculum that allows students to use the school owned greenhouses or high tunnels to grow items to sell at the market. The goal is to connect students to local growers thereby establishing a partnership that will keep food growing in rural Lyon County for years.
After a successful first year of rural markets Emporia Farmers Market Manager Jessica Hopkins was approached by residents in Allen Kansas with a desire to have a market added to their community. Jessica consulted with Healthier Lyon County’s Daphne Mertens and Teresa Briggs to discuss this possibility.
”Jessica had already worked out all of the details and was able to share existing resources between rural markets, making no additional funding necessary to add a third market. It was impressive to seethe collaboration and how the community came together” said Healthier Lyon County Grant Manager Daphne Mertens.
Through Pathways our county has gained three new farmers markets that now provide access to fresh food without the need to travel, also giving rural growers an opportunity to sell their products. The success of these markets was more significant than we expected.
“It’s not often you get to help solve an issue that has plagued your community for years in such a short time. That’s what the Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant has given us” said Mertens.