Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Vendors set up their stalls in anticipation of the Lafayette Farmer's and Artisan Market at the Horse Farm on Wednesday afternoon.

Lafayette’s local food market just got a big boost from a federal program designed to provide expert help to local growers and sellers.

A partnership of city-parish government, EarthShare Gardens and the Acadiana Food Alliance has been tapped for consulting help through the federal Local Foods, Local Places Initiative.

The technical support, offered to communities where local food is in high demand, will aid in creating action plans for enhancing local food offerings and preserving small farms.

“We’ll be able to assess the food system landscape and figure out where we need to go,” said Emily Neustrom, a planner with city-parish government who is working with the Acadiana Food Alliance, the group that submitted Lafayette for the initiative.

“Because we’re connecting with the federal government in this way, it will increase our chances to get larger grants to enact the projects that we come up with. It’s one step in the process to get funds to do these projects,” Neustrom said.

Experts in agriculture, health and economics will work with locals to develop food-related projects, which could include using vacant land to plant crops and grow food, establishing year-round markets for local food and improving food supply chains by creating local food distribution hubs.

More than 300 communities throughout the country applied for assistance through the Local Foods, Local Places consulting program, and only 26 were chosen.

“I think it’s a confirmation by the federal government and the agencies involved granting the technical assistance that they see Lafayette and the Acadiana region working together,” Neustrom said. “I think it’s a sign that they recognize that we show promise to make things happen. I think it’s a great sign that they see that in us.”

Neustrom said guidance from the federal program should begin within the next three months. It will start with phone conferences, she said, and then an on-site meeting with government experts to assess the community’s local food infrastructure needs.

“The changes to Lafayette’s local food system in the 10 years since EarthShare Gardens was founded have been incredible,” EarthShare Gardens President Chris Adams said in a prepared statement. “We now have the opportunity to deepen and extend the economic impact of local foods, to ensure farmers can afford to farm and consumers can eat healthy without breaking the bank.”

EarthShare Gardens is a nonprofit community gardening group that has raised vegetables for those in need and nurtured neighborhood gardens across Lafayette.