FARMINGTON — Four Corners Economic Development will host a Food System Summit for the Four Corners region on Thursday at McGee Park.
The summit provides a change for attendees to network and learn about food-related resources, said Ray Hagerman, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development. For example, schools and hospitals interested in buying more locally-grown food can connect with potential suppliers, he said.
"Hopefully, people will come away from the summit with more information and knowledge of potential collaborations," Hagerman said.
A similar summit in January 2012 brought together representatives from farmers' markets, food-producing farms and ranches, and distribution and food service agencies. The summit focused on establishing a regional, self-sustaining food system.
"What happened with the summit a few years ago is that it created an environment where people could find out about who's doing what (in the food industry)," Hagerman said. "It really provided a good networking opportunity."
This year's summit will offer several sessions for attendees to exchange ideas. Experts will also give short presentations on topics such as food cooperatives and agritourism, which involved attracting visitors to a farm or ranch.
The lunch speaker on Thursday will be from the Mixing Bowl Kitchen Incubator in Albuquerque, a nonprofit that connects new food-related businesses with commercial kitchens where they can prepare their products.
Hagerman stressed the summit isn't just for food producers and sellers. It's for anyone in the region with an interest in food production and distribution, he said.
Bonnie Hopkins, an agriculture agent with the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, is helping plan this year's summit.
"The challenge is that people really want more locally-grown food," she said. "But if we increase our food production, we have to make sure the markets will be there to support it. So what we're hoping to do is create some genuine networks, and hopefully open up dialogue and communication between producers and sellers. There are a lot of opportunities, and if we can work better together, it will be better for all of us."
Evert Oldham, area director for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was the main organizer of the 2012 summit.
He said the challenge in this region is not that people aren't growing food. In fact, he's seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in local food production since the last summit. Rather, he said, locally-grown food runs out too quickly and a lack of coordination among farmers' markets leads to a surplus of some produce, like tomatoes, and a deficit in other items.
Oldham is optimistic, however, that local food production and coordination will increase as a new generation of young people interested in agricultural industries enters the workforce.
"Fort Lewis College in Durango is turning out more farmers, and more younger people are using their farmer incubator program," he said. "The beautiful thing is these are kids, as opposed to just the baby boomer generation, who weren't as interested in expanding. We're seeing more people who are really serious (about going into agriculture)."