Small local farmers meet with Tipton about needs

Rep. Scott Tipton listens to a presentation by LiveWell Montezuma along with coop board members Kim Lindgren and Marybeth Gentry.

The growth of the local-food movement and the infrastructure challenges that small farmers face drew the attention of Rep. Scott Tipton at a meeting with farmers on April 22.

The coordinator for LiveWell Montezuma, JoDee Powers, outlined the growth of the use of local food in local restaurants, schools and Southwest Memorial Hospital.

After consumer institutions start buying local food, they're hooked on the taste and the low rate of spoilage, and they don't want anything else, she said.

Vic Vanic, an owner of Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery, said he has sold 5,000 pounds of tomatoes since November.

Challenges that small farmers face include the lack of loans to expand and mechanize and a lack of labor, she said. Small farmers have trouble qualifying for Small Business Administration loans because of their limited size.

Safety regulations designed for large-scale agriculture are also prohibitive and restrictive.

There is also need for more storage and processing facilities in the area. For example, a plant that could flash-freeze vegetables for customers would allow farmers to sell product for use in the winter, Powers said.

Small farmers are tackling the lack of infrastructure by forming a distribution co-op to help cut the costs of delivery to buyers.

This is the co-op's first season, and as of the meeting with Tipton, it was still in the process of finding a location, said Vanic, a board member. "There is this momentum forward with such speed that we're just are all running on the treadmill trying to keep up and put something in place this season that can serve the market," said Gabe Eggers, a board member. Tipton offered to support the farmers as a member of the congressional Natural Resources, Agriculture and Small Business committees.

"What you're speaking to is incredibly important," Tipton said.