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The Gift of Nutrition: EPA Helps NC Communities Foster Healthy Food

PHOTO: As part of the EPA's 'Local Foods, Local Places' initiative, Rutherford County was able to relocate its farmers' market to the Florence Mill property in Forest City. Photo courtesy of NC Extension Service
PHOTO: As part of the EPA's 'Local Foods, Local Places' initiative, Rutherford County was able to relocate its farmers' market to the Florence Mill property in Forest City. Photo courtesy of NC Extension Service
December 18, 2014

ROCKY MOUNT, N. C. — Christmas came early this month for the community of Rocky Mount. It will receive assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a new farmers' market and develop urban community gardens at former brownfield sites.

It's part of the agency's Local Foods, Local Places initiative. Anne Keller of EPA Region 4 explains the program offers multiple benefits.

"It's really offering an opportunity to focus on healthier eating, the availability of more fresh foods from a local area, the potential to improve their economic status by weaving food and downtown revitalization together, to further put foot traffic in the area," says Keller.

Twenty-six communities in 19 states will receive assistance. A similar initiative had been under way in Appalachia for several years and is now expanding beyond that region. The communities of Spruce Pine, North Wilkesboro and Forest City received similar assistance in prior years.

Jan McGuinn, an agricultural extension agent with the North Carolina Extension Service in Rutherford Count,y helped with the project near Forest City. There, she says, the EPA helped the community develop a plan to relocate its farmers' market to an unused property, providing them the ability to sell year-round in an indoor space.

"As we get into this next century, there will be so much new innovation that ag will have to envision and go through," McGuinn says. "And hopefully, our local business people and our residents all will have a share in that."

While people often think only of environmental protection when it comes to the EPA's role, Keller explains the program's goals work hand-in-hand with its mission.

"We do protect human health and the environment, so there's a human health aspect – having access to healthier foods from a local area not only increases human health," she says. "But in addition, if you're getting it from somewhere local, you're producing fewer emissions that produce greenhouse gases and warming."

The EPA also is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government entities, and is part of a White House Rural Council announced in June.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC