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Campaign connects farmers, restaurants
By Kaitlyn Byrne
MSU Ag. Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University is part of an effort to connect restaurants with Mississippi producers to get fresh local produce to consumers.
MSU’s Extension Service is promoting Eat Healthy Mississippi, a campaign sponsored by the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. The program unites restaurant chefs seeking local foods for their menus and growers who can supply fresh fruits and vegetables. In turn, restaurant patrons will have access to healthier foods.
By connecting local food producers to new markets, the Eat Healthy Mississippi campaign will benefit local economies, said Ken Hood, Extension professor in MSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics.
“It will stimulate the local economy by encouraging restaurants to seek out locally grown produce through the Mississippi Market Maker website, where local producers post what they have available,” he said. “These new market outlets for farmers will hopefully stimulate new menu ideas, thus increasing demand for local fare at restaurants.”
A vital part of the campaign is the Healthy Dining Finder at http://www.healthydiningfinder.com. This nationwide website lists healthy restaurant menu options and can be searched by location. Each restaurant lists the number of items offered in different categories: healthy dining, sodium savvy and kids eat well. The website includes healthy recipes that incorporate fresh local produce.
“The website tells consumers where they can find healthy choices in restaurants, plus they will be able to get recipes so they can try it at home,” Hood said.
Mike Cashion, executive director of MHRA, said Eat Healthy Mississippi is creating new relationships between growers and restaurants.
“We’re developing a working roster of local growers that restaurants can easily access,” he said.
Paige Manning, director of marketing and public relations for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, said the campaign has the potential to increase business for growers.
“This initiative will potentially lead to consumers eating more Mississippi-grown fruits, vegetables and specialty crops, which will expand our specialty crop industry.”
Manning said MHRA, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the MSU Extension Service have collaborated to encourage farmers and restaurants to use Mississippi Market Maker, a site dedicated to connecting markets and quality sources of food from farms and fisheries in Mississippi. The free service is online at http://www.marketmaker.msstate.edu.
Recent consumer trends indicate a growing demand to know where food is from and a preference for locally grown products, Manning said.
“This trend is no different for restaurant diners,” she said. “Eat Healthy Mississippi gives consumers the option to buy locally when dining out and creates more healthy dining options, which could lead to better health.”
Manning said restaurants could see an increase in revenue by meeting consumers’ demands for local produce.
“With increased access to locally-grown fruits and vegetables, restaurants will be able to fulfill consumer demand,” she said. “Restaurants offering healthy menu options that incorporate local produce could experience an increase in the number of diners and revenues.”