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Durham Commissioners consider sourcing local producers for detention center

Rachael Riley;

Salads, carrots and apples produced food for thought for Durham County Commissioners during their Monday work session.

A proposal to use $30,000 worth of seed money for a pilot program to support local food purchasing for the Durham County Detention Center was brought to the table.

“(It) would provide a mix of direct food buying and also support local farmers, as they look to cover food safety compliance and certification costs,” said Drew Cummings, Durham County chief of staff.

The proposal would appropriate the funds to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office budget for a contract with with Farmer Foodshare, a local food-based nonprofit which would act as a liaison between ABL Management -- the detention facility’s food vendor -- and Durham County farmers.

The funds would be used to either purchase Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)-certified food for the detention facility or used as a 50 percent cost match for GAP certification expenses of Durham producers.

The Soil & Water Conservation District and Reinvestment Partners are also exploring a local food purchasing program.

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said she appreciates the collaborative approach, but cautioned monitoring what’s eaten.

“If for instance (clients are) provided with a fresh salad and 50 percent of the time it’s not getting eaten that might be a signal that there’s a problem ... let’s be smart about this and not continue to generate food waste,” Reckhow said.

She suggested possibly looking into starting the program in a youth detention facility that serves fewer people first.

Commissioner Heidi Carter said she’d like to know how much food is sourced locally and work toward a policy to support the effort.

“I am (excited) about this movement we’re seeing in Durham going toward increasing the amount of food that we’re serving in our institutions that are source level,” Carter said.

Commissioners’ Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs said the county’s 2009 Durham County Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation plan outlines the county’s goal of exploring ways to institutionally support farmers.

“Frankly as you look at how to create other sources of revenue as how to create local economy, we need to look at our farmers as small business people … to integrate into our overall economic development plan and economic development strategy, and I think this is the first step,” Jacobs said.

Helping local farmers receive proper certifications could lead to their being able to sell to grocery stores, too, she said.

Commissioner Brenda Howerton said she’d like data about whether local minority farmers could benefit from the program.

“We are a diverse community, and we can not overlook this conversation,” Howerton said.