Through their website, Envision Lehigh Valley received a total of 1,118 completed surveys as well as feedback from 47 public meetings that were held through the fall. The breakdown of the participants represented an accurate cross section of our regional population on the characteristics of race, age, income and location.
In the 47 focus groups that were held during the public meetings, Lehigh Valley residents appeared to be most interested in discussing economic development, which they saw as a positive thing for the region.
They mentioned large projects currently being undertaken across the Lehigh Valley. Participants discussed projects such as the hockey arena, casino, and ArtsQuest. Projects involving specific companies, including Ocean Spray, and the Lehigh Valley Hospital Expansion, were mentioned as well as more generic business expansions like the Allentown waterfront project, the P&P Mill, and new hotels and retail space in various locations.
Focus group participants were generally dissatisfied with the types of jobs available to Lehigh Valley workers and didn’t believe the job market matched the qualifications most workers have.
The groups also examined other topics; citizens talked 652 times about housing, 549 times about fresh food access, and 378 times about climate and energy.
One of the most interesting findings to come out of the focus group analysis is that the overall interests and topics of discussion varied very little in the different cities, boroughs, and townships where they were held. These commonalities suggest that quality of life factors in the Lehigh Valley are important across the valley, not just in one or two communities.
The Greater Lehigh Valley chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL-GLV) has released a study that counters the popular perception that prices at farmers’ markets are more expensive than at grocery stores. (Click here to read the complete study on the pricing of farmers markets compared to grocery stores) No significant price difference was found between the two venues in the LehighValley. In fact, “Because there was a wide price range for produce at the Lehigh Valley farmers’ markets, it was always possible to find less expensive produce there than at the grocery stores,” says study author and Lehigh University Community Fellow, Laura Schmidt.
The study included pricing data for nine seasonal products (produce, meat and eggs) collected in the fall of 2012. Data was collected from four LehighValley farmers’ markets and two grocery stores and accounted for both organic and conventional growing methods.
“This study challenges the myth that food at farmers’ markets is always more expensive than at grocery stores.” says BFBL-GLV Director, Lynn Prior. “In addition, it shows that seasonal, locally-grown foods can be very affordable and cost less than food imports at grocery stores.”
The study will be incorporated into an Assessment Report for a Fresh Food Access Plan being developed as part of EnvisionLehighValley, and funded by a HUD Sustainable Communities Grant. Fresh food access forums for public comment will be hosted in March 2013 by Buy Fresh Buy Local and the Nurture Nature Center. (Visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com for event schedules and updates.)
The report will look at the assortment of businesses and relationships involved in moving food from our local farms to our tables. While there’s been great success with direct sales from our local farms to consumers, we are not doing as well getting local foods to wholesale buyers. Infrastructure is critical to move local food to wholesale buyers. The report will examine what we have and need in terms of infrastructure to scale up our local food system.
There are four designated food deserts in the LehighValley. The USDA defines a food desert according to census tracts. Communities qualify as food deserts if they meet two criteria:
- low-income communities (a poverty rate of 20 percent or more); and
- low-access communities (at least 33% of the population lives greater than 1 mile from a large grocery store).
Consumers in the LehighValley spend $1.5 billion on food each year; less than one percent of this is purchased directly from our local farms. The result is that most of our food dollars are leaving our region through purchase of food imports. By increasing the amount of food purchased from our local growers, we can help make farming more profitable and ensure that farmland & healthy, flavorful food will be available for future generations. At the same time, we will also be investing our food dollars locally and creating jobs right here in the Lehigh Valley.
BFBL-GLV is a program of the NurtureNatureCenter, a 501©(3) organization. BFBL chapters across Pennsylvania are coordinated by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), on behalf of our national partner, Food Routes Network.