Cullman County sweet potatoes graced the plates of more than 44,600 north Alabama students Sept. 18 for the official launch of the Farm Food Collaborative (FFC).
The FFC is north Alabama’s first local food hub to help farmers sell locally grown produce to schools, workplace cafeterias, distributors, restaurants and grocery stores.
Sweet potatoes from founding collaborative member and Cullman County farmer Clark Haynes were served in 80 schools in Madison County.
“It feels good that people want to know who is growing their food,” Haynes said. “I didn’t know if I’d see that in my lifetime. It’s a real good change.”
The collaborative is a project by the Food Bank of North Alabama (FBNA), with support from the Boeing Co., Boeing Employees Community Fund, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Appalachian Regional Commission, the Walmart Foundation, The Wallace Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Madison County Commission.
“The launch of the Farm Food Collective is a win for local farmers, a win for Alabama families trying to make healthy food choices and a win for Alabama’s economy,” said FBNA Executive Director Kathryn Strickland.
Planning for the project began more than a year ago. It was designed to help family farms thrive, increase access to local, healthy food and strengthen the region’s economy, Strickland said.
Alabama Farmers Federation Division Director of Horticulture Mac Higginbotham echoed Strickland’s sentiments.
“We’re glad our farmers are getting the opportunity to directly nourish the minds and bodies of tomorrow’s leaders,” he said. “This truly is a collaborative effort, and all involved will reap the benefits of buying fresh and local.”
Since its soft launch in 2012, the food hub has facilitated distribution of more than $293,000 of locally grown produce and provided almost 500,000 pounds of fresh food to participating groups and businesses.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of the program isn’t the monetary incentive farmers receive. It’s the satisfaction Haynes and other farmers get from newfound-fans of what they grow.
Austin Whitman, a third-grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Huntsville, discovered he liked fresh vegetables.
“I used to not like sweet potatoes, but these are really good,” he said.