Meeting focuses on access to locally-grown food

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

FERDINAND — How locally-grown food can be better provided to local people was discussed Thursday afternoon at the Tri-County YMCA.

Representatives of Indiana University’s Sustainable Food Systems Science Initiative and Center for Rural Engagement led the discussion. Jodee Ellett, community engagement specialist at IU’s sustainable food systems science, said that the ideas shared were different than what she’s heard from other counties.

“In some counties, we spend a lot of time talking about cooking,” she said, for instance. “The conversations are really different.”

Participants at Thursday’s meeting talked about how more local food could be provided to the public, how people could grow some of their own food and how to get the public more interested in this healthier choice. The group of about 20 at the meeting represented different interests in the food arena: farming, nutrition and health, food for children, healthy food for the financially-challenged, food as a business, agri-tourism, and food education.

They filled out a survey, and the discussions were derived from the topics on the survey.

Some of the ideas shared were: expanding farmers markets; establishing a co-op where local food could be sold; creating community gardens in public parks or public spaces; training people on how to start small agricultural businesses; enhancing a network in which farmers could sell directly to food businesses like caterers; and educating the public about different foods, including having taste tests.

Challenges were also discussed. For instance, Dave Fischer of Fischer Farms said that farmers markets can be challenging for farmers.

“The No. 1 issue with farmers is the amount of time farmers markets take,” he said. “It’s a lot of time. It’s not only being there, it’s harvesting, preparing and dealing with what’s left over. Last week you sold two bushels of tomatoes and this week you sold two pounds. What am I going to do with them now?”

Tim Flick of Fueled Strength Meals said he believes local food service businesses would be interested in receiving that excess food to prepare meals.

“If you get food service involved, especially the caterers and high-volume restaurants, you could get rid of some of that (excess food),” he explained. “I mean, 60 pounds of vegetables — squash, zucchini, peppers onions, broccoli, green beans — that’s a vegetable medley.

“There’s a lot of opportunity out there on the food service side,” Flick said. “We have to have it, but we have to have it now.”

IU will host a regional food conference in late January in Bedford that will be open to public. The date has not been set yet.

The conference will include workshops “for people to do a deeper dive on some of the topics we are hearing in these community meetings,” Ellett said. The goal is to bring people with interests in similar topics together to discuss and share ideas with each other, she said.

Ellett is planning to include all ideas and challenges collected Thursday in a report being compiled about food sustainability. Dubois County is one of 11 counties that will be included in the report.

“We’re letting the communities drive the conversation,” she said, “to see if there is anything across county lines to do something that is beneficial to those communities. If there are regional themes, there may be ways to support those regionally.”

People who were unable to attend Thursday’s meeting can still share ideas with Ellett via email at ellett@iu.edu.




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