Providing healthy eating opportunities, particularly in improving access to fresh produce, was a key focus as the Harvey County Commission heard from the Food and Farm Council on Monday.

Council president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs presented to the commission on Monday as the entity seeks out funding through the Healthy Eating Rural Opportunities (HERO) grant offered by the Sunflower Foundation.

The grant would offer up to $65,000 in funding for the Food and Farm Council to address goals such as improving access to locally grown food, bringing together stakeholders from diverse food sectors to coordinate community-wide efforts, developing strategies to make sure community residents are able to obtain healthy foods and more.

In regards to the strategies making it easier to obtain healthy foods, the Harvey County Farmers Market was a main topic of discussion on Monday. According to a 2012 Consumer Expenditure Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of $92 million is spent on food annually in Harvey County,. Not only is the council focused on increasing and keeping that money in the county, but it also wants to increase the amount spent on fruits and vegetables — something it hopes will be aided with food assistance (with 2,676 county residents receiving that in some form in 2016) targeted for integration in the farmers market this year.

"We are just about there," Hobbs said. "We need to train the vendors and once we have our vendors trained, we should be able to implement that this season."

Additionally, the council is aiming to make the market more inviting in general — a process that could be assisted through more funding.

Hobbs noted enhancements the council is eyeing include adding street flags and entertaining music to liven the atmosphere of the farmers market and make it more of a draw.

"There's kind of a long-term exploration of what can we do to improve the entertainment factor while providing and increasing the number of producers that we have at the farmers market, and also the consumers," Hobbs said.

Other strategies Hobbs mentioned in trying to enhance access, knowledge and usage of local, healthy food include offering food education classes (i.e. how to cook with the products offered at the farmers market) and hiring a videographer to help with the marketing aspect and drawing more customers.

Commissioners brought up some additional ideas, like helping with transportation and running a route through the assisted living areas to the farmers market — something County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber noted was a focal point at last year's FEAST (Food, Education, Agriculture and Systems Together) event.

"That was something at the FEAST discussion," Swartzendruber said. "There was a group that was focusing pretty much on access to food and how do you get people transported to farmers markets or how do you get 'em to the grocery stores or how do you get 'em to fresh fruits and vegetables."

Points like getting residents to the grocery store and to fresh fruits and vegetables were made all the more pressing with the recent closure of Weaver Grocers in Hesston. Harvey County Health and Wellness Coordinator Lisa Bartel noted she is in talks with the city to help try and get a store back in, given the how integral that access is to the Food and Farm Council's mission.

Location of the farmers market was also talked about in regards to access, but it was noted the board has shown interest in staying at its current site (on Sixth Street). There are many plans in the works for the farmers market, though Hobbs noted much is still in development and conversation, reliant on funding. Ultimately, the commission authorized the council to proceed with its grant application.

In other business, the county commission:

Was introduced to new Harvey County GIS Coordinator Allen Shafer.
Recommended proceeding with an agreement for a community health nurse position to be shared between Harvey and Marion counties. The position would officially be a full-time position with the Harvey County Health Department, according to Health Director Lynnette Redington, but the potential employee would be scheduled to spend three days in Harvey County and two in Marion County. The agreement stipulates that, given that split of responsibilities, Marion County would reimburse Harvey County for 40 percent of the associated costs.
Approved a proclamation denoting May 6-12 as Public Service Recognition week.
Discussed the replacement of county coroner Ron Morford, with Swartzendruber noting the local medical societies of the areas served (Harvey and McPherson counties, in this case) can nominate one or more candidates for the position and the commission of the more populous county can either appoint one of the individuals nominated or another qualified candidate. That person would then serve out the remainder of Morford's term — set to expire this year — and come back before the commission for reappointment every four years. Swartzendruber noted the head of the local medical society would be informed, while commissioners also broached the idea of organizing a retirement reception for Morford.
Learned from Redington that a new agreement with the state is providing assistance (through the availability of centrifuges) in regards to the joint STI/HIV testing initiative recently taken on by the health department and Health Ministries Clinic.
Received a reminder of the upcoming ICS course for elected officials at 1 p.m. on Friday.
Heard a message of gratitude from Planning and Zoning Director Gina Bell for the updated aerial imagery from Pictometry, which she noted has provided much greater detail and allowed for more work to be done from the office.
Approved Resolution 2018-12 appointing Michele Lowery as interim county appraiser.
Approved the grant applications for Harvey/McPherson County Community Corrections for adult services, juvenile services and behavioral health programming.
Reviewed a first quarter financial report for 2018.