The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is assuring area consumers that fresh, affordable and healthy food - from local growers - is within reach.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is assuring area consumers that fresh, affordable and healthy food from local growers is within reach.

Using a breezy, sunny Earth Day as a backdrop, MORPC unveiled its new Regional Food Assessment Plan at the Franklin Park Conservatory on April 22.

The document presents strategies for strengthening the economy, ensuring access to healthful food, reducing transportation costs and preserving farmland.

A committee within the planning commission spent the last year reaching out to 12 counties and gathering information for the plan, which establishes two dozen recommendations, from increasing food-processing capacity to showcasing local food in stores and restaurants.

Various dignitaries from the region joined MORPC officials at the announcement.

Robert Boggs, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, told the audience that there are 75,000 farms in the state, making Ohio the eighth largest farm state in the country, and thousands of farms in the 12-county region. All related agencies need to put distribution and logistical systems in place to get fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to local consumers, Boggs said.

"We have much work ahead of us, but this is an incredible first step," he said.

Brian Williams, a policy consultant to the planning commission, said outreach to local restaurants and grocers is at the beginning phases. Many restaurants and grocers are supporting regional and Ohio goods, and holding events to highlight area producers. Williams said those efforts must be tied together.

"Right now local food is a niche. It's a growing niche," he said. "MORPC wants to take this mainstream."

Locally based luna burger was on hand, giving away free samples of its vegan patties. Barbie Luna, a partner in the business, based on Columbus' East Side, said about 75 percent of the ingredients come from Ohio.

"That's been one of our challenges, buying as much as we need during the growing season," she said.

The company, in business for about a year, turns out about 1,500 burgers a week. They can be found on the shelves of such local grocers as Huffman's Market, the Raisin Rack and Whole Foods.

This year, though, local sources should account for more than 90 percent of the luna burger patties, Luna said.

"This season should put us over the top," she said. "We have chosen ingredients in our recipes that hopefully we can find locally."

gseman

@thisweeknews.com