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City receives EPA assistance for expanding food access in downtown

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — To boost availability of fresh food in downtown Salisbury, the city was awarded federal assistance Thursday through the Local Foods, Local Places program.

The program, through U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture, will help Salisbury develop a common, goal for the community by providing with $25,000 in technical assistance, a workshop and identifying local assets to support the local food economy, according to EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker. Salisbury was one of 16 recipients nationwide to receive the assistance of the more than 100 applications.

The city will focus on strengthening small retail business activity and downtown revitalization by exploring co-operative opportunities beyond a seasonal, outdoor farmers market model.

Mayor Karen Alexander said moving the Salisbury Farmers Market to downtown was a success. Last week, it opened for the first time at its new location at a newly constructed pavilion on Kerr Street. The assistance will capitalize on the already existing project.

“This will just further that activity in support opportunities for our citizens to have access to fresh foods,” Alexander said.

A co-op market store is one of the visions Alexander has for the award, which aims to provide access to fresh foods in neighborhoods like Park Avenue, North Main and downtown.

The program will begin in summer or early fall, starting with workshops to gauge the community’s needs for access to local foods. The program has no set expiration date.

Together local stakeholders and the team of federal, state and regional experts in agriculture, environment, public health, architecture and economic development will develop a plan that improves access to fresh foods, support farmers, grow new businesses, keep people healthy and improve the environment, Walker said.

The program will also link the farming community to the urban community, Walker added.

Those local partners will include the Farmers Market committee, Downtown Salisbury Inc., Rowan EDC, Healthy Rowan, Novant Health and Rowan County Cooperative Extension.

“It’s very much community-driven,” Walker said.

The selected community is in an opportunity zone — low-income census tracts or low-income adjacent tracts where qualified investors receive tax benefits.

“The Trump Administration is committed to helping communities develop and strengthen their local food economy by investing in opportunity zones in often under privileged communities, some of which have been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release. “Support for local food initiatives can improve access to fresh foods, support farmers, grow new businesses, keep Americans healthy and improve the environment.”

The technical assistance process is structured to three pre-workshop calls with the committee, a community workshop, three post-workshop calls and the delivery of the final action plan. The report determines the end of the assistance with the committee and contractors

The Local Foods, Local Places announcement comes a week after the EPA awarded the city a Brownfields grant to clean up the old Kesler Mill site, another funding goal of the city.

“We’ve checked off a bunch of that list,” Alexander said.

Walker said the city has a strong local vision and the EPA is happy to support it.

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