WEVERTOWN As local residents face rapidly increasing food prices combined with unprecedented fuel and transportation costs, a group of citizens is seeking to find solutions. Financial pressure on local households, coupled with uncertain external factorsaffecting food availability, are prompting people from the North Country to contemplate a back to basics approach to local food production and distribution. A group of concerned residents met this week at the North Country Outreach Center near Wevertown to discuss ways to enhance local food security. They hope to draft a plan to develop the areas food production capability, and increase its independence from imported goods. I dont think we need to review all of the reasons why we are discussing this issue, Outreach Center President Andrea McKee said at the meeting. There are lots of reasons why people are interested in having a quality and locally produced food supply. The interesting thing is how things are tending toward re-localizing as global problems are addressed at the local level. McKee led discussion focusing on practical short- and long-term solutions. As opinions and ideas were shared, several key points emerged that will serve as the basis for the groups next meeting, she said. A primary focus centered on one of the regions most under-utilized resources: the individual production of food in backyard gardens. There was universal support at the meeting for a local farmers market where surplus produce could be purchased and sold, stemming from either through commercial farming activity or small scale production. Community gardens and community-supported agriculture (CSA) efforts also ranked high on the list of potential projects. Several attendees shared their experiences with community-based gardens and the group was updated on the North Country Outreach Centers effort to establish their own garden this year. This Outreach Center garden serves a dual-role by supplementing the local emergency food pantry with a gleaning of fresh vegetables - a tradition that McKee hopes to see replicated throughout the region. The group also discussed the possibility of establishing a formal metropolitan-style food co-op in a vacant property on Main St. in North Creek, and the potential for developing a regular produce pickup service from Washington and Essex County farms. We need to think outside of the box on all of these issues, McKee said. Several people expressed concern that while food production was important, the need for food preparation, preservation, and storage also ranked high on the list of the areas educational needs. On this topic, the meeting featured a presentation by Anna Dawson, owner of Hometown Foods LLC., in Kinderhook, NY. Dawsons company specializes in small-scale food preservation, packaged meals, and food processing that utilizes locally produced fruit and produce. She also works with the Malone Food Resource Center and a gleaning project. An enterprise called Comlinks recently entered the food preservation and distribution market with a new food processing facility in Malone and a fleet of distribution vehicles. The organization is in the beginning stages of providing a food distribution service to the upstate New York region. Dawson reiterated the need to preserve what the region is able to produce during its relatively short growing season, and discussed how food preservation and storage must play an integral role in an overall food production strategy. In keeping with the emphasis of back to basics, over the next few weeks, the NCOC will host a series of food storage and preparation workshops so interested individuals can learn how to safely prepare and store garden-fresh produce. The group plans to meet at the Outreach Center again Aug. 13, at 6:30 p.m.