What: 2018 Northeast Indiana Local Food Forum
When: March 12
Eat, learn, collaborate and celebrate our region's local food. Check out www.NEIfood.org for all the details.
Like most Hoosiers, I did not grow up on a farm. I need to go back several generations to find a farmer in my family tree. Yet buying my food directly from local farmers has helped me understand the risks and rewards of farming and develop respect for the dedication of farmers.
I have called Indiana home nearly 20 years, yet for most of that time I felt disconnected from the land around me.
For many Hoosiers, their sense of connection comes from our state's natural beauty, our sports teams or long-standing Indiana heritage.
My love for this region was formed around food.
For a growing number of Hoosiers, and for those we hope to attract to our region, being part of a local food community helps us feel connected. When you know the person who feeds you, and the land where your food comes from, you can't help but feel a bond of gratitude. Feeling a strong attachment to northeast Indiana, for whatever reason, is something we need to nurture.
Shopping for local food is not just a feel-good activity.
Buying local food also makes sound economic sense. It's surprising, but according to Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center, “Ninety percent of the food Indiana residents eat is sourced outside of the state. In particular, 98 percent of the fruits and vegetables Hoosiers eat were imported into Indiana.”
That statistic illustrates the economic potential of strengthening our local food economy.
According to Jodee Ellett, statewide Local Foods Coordinator for Purdue Extension, if Hoosiers substituted 10 percent of our current at-home household food budget ($458 per year per household) with locally grown and produced food, we would generate more than $1 billion of economic activity in Indiana.
What a healthy and satisfying way to boost our local economy!
Northeast Indiana has what it takes to meet our increasing desire to eat local. More than ever, people want to know where our food comes from and how it was made.
We are fortunate to have abundant farmland, talented farmers, energetic entrepreneurs, experienced food professionals and lots of folks eager to enjoy great food. What we lack is a cohesive local food community and collaborative local food networks to bring more food from our land to our tables.
The Northeast Indiana Local Food Network was formed to help seize this opportunity. We are working with regional economic development leaders, farmers, chefs and local food businesses to increase the visibility of and economic opportunities for local food. We will share stories of local food producers and artisans, publish a local food guide and host events to build personal and business relationships around locally grown and produced food.
Food choices are very personal. No one wants to be told what to eat or where to shop. Food can be a source of pleasure, comfort or tradition, yet it is often just something to fill our belly when we are hungry. However, one ingredient, one meal, one season at a time, we can all choose to spend more of our food dollars locally.
In a world where so much seems to be tearing us apart, let's come together around healthy, delicious, local food. We will all benefit by embracing the mutual dependency between our rural and urban communities. Through a thriving local food marketplace, we will all enjoy not only the flavors of our region, but an abiding connection to our land and our community.
Janet Katz is director of the Northeast Indiana Local Food Network.