By Sherri Dugger
The local food events and conferences around Indiana are beginning to multiply. And for good reason.
- The Indiana Small Farm Conference
- FED: Food Expo & Discussion
- The Indiana Farmers Market Forum
- The Indiana Food Summit
- The Food & Growers Association Winter Conference
- The Northeast Indiana Local Food Forum
Local food systems positively affect economic growth of small towns and cities across our state. The more farmers and food producers we have providing for their communities, the healthier and wealthier the communities they serve. Conversely, economic growth can support and promote local food systems. Policy makes sure of that, and if policy provides technical and financial support for our food growers and local food systems, we all win.
Local food is indeed trending, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Food connoisseurs are hashtagging and Instagramming their local meals. Restaurants champion their locally grown menus. Farmers markets continue to multiply throughout the state. Despite this, estimates on how much local food being bought and sold still remains low, relatively speaking. In Indiana, food is a $16 billion a year business, and 90 percent of the food Hoosiers eat is imported into the state.
What that means for local food growers and producers? There’s plenty of opportunity.
When I speak at food and farming conferences throughout the state, I enjoy conversations with farmers and food producers of all ages and stages. Some farmers are starting up community gardens to feed low food access neighborhoods in urban areas. Others are planting and plotting out small five-acre diversified farms or agritourism businesses. Some are growing using aquaponic or hydroponic methods. Some are producing food in season-extending high tunnels and greenhouses. Still others are raising commodity grains from fence row to fence row.
Then there are the food artisans, the food system advocates, and the foodies, themselves, who are throwing potlucks and slow-food soirées to celebrate our state’s natural bounty.
These wonderful minds and passionate leaders are gathering each year at Indiana’s community events to discuss the ways we can make our food systems better. To address economic growth and local food systems simultaneously, we must develop food value chains made up of stakeholders who share the same values, who strive for transparency, and who work for and support the production of healthy, fresh foods traveling as few food miles as possible. We need policy makers, food council members, growers, aggregators, processors, distributors, retailers, wholesale institutions and eaters all to sit down at the same table. The outcome of these gatherings will most certainly lead to creating more sustainable food systems that better feed our communities.
And we need good policy. Over the next few months, our legislators will be discussing the future of our farm bill, which is the most important legislation regarding food and farming in the United States. The farm bill determines the funding that nutrition programs, farm safety nets, beginning farmer training programs, and conservation programs will receive—programs like the Local Foods Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program receive. The farm bill affects all of us, and it determines whether farmers and food growers can access funds to start and grow their businesses.
Yes, local food tastes good. It’s also good for our health, our local economies, and for our communities. Simply put, local food is important. Talk to your legislators, tell your stories, and advocate for strong, local food systems. Because, even in Indiana, local food is always in season.
Sherri Dugger serves as the media and outreach director for Indiana Farmers Union, as a rural affairs consultant for The Humane Society of the United States , and as a Midwest outreach consultant for Earthjustice. She lives with her husband, Randy, and their dogs, cats, alpacas, goats, chickens, and bees at Dugger Family Farm in Morristown, Indiana. Sherri is also the creator and editor of a local food resource, Hoosier Locavore.