Second Columbus food summit planned

The Bartholomew County Purdue Extension office is partnering with Reach Healthy Communities to present the second Columbus Area Local Food Summit Feb. 22 at Donner Center, 739 22nd St.

The program runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with registration from 8:30 to 9. Cost is $10, which includes lunch. Register online at extension.purdue.edu/Bartholomew.

The summit is intended for those who play a role in the local food economy, such as food producers, grocers and restaurants, distributors and consumers. The goal is to forge connections among these groups, learn about opportunities and best practices, and identify next steps for local food in the Columbus area.

Purdue Extension conducted its first food summit in 2015. Five are planned throughout the state this year, said Kris Medic, the local Purdue Extension agriculture, natural resources and community development educator. Medic will share lessons learned on recent study trips to Vermont and Maine, where the local food economies are older and more developed.

The day will also feature buyers’ and farmers’ panels, while the afternoon session will be a facilitated discussion on the topic “What’s Next for Our Local Food System?”

Medic said 45 people attended last year’s inaugural food summit in Columbus. She hopes to make it an annual event as it facilitates connections among people involved with the local food system.

“Every year you get a slightly different mix of people,” she said. “It takes doing this consistently to foster those connections.”

Medic said she visited Maine and Vermont to learn from those states that have “more mature” local food economies. “In places where the local food economy is more mature, there are farmers who are totally thriving on growing products for local consumption, and consumers who are committed to eating locally.”

The food summit is also a great way to learn more about what’s happening in our area. “I’m looking forward to hearing from folks on the buyers’ panel about what they’re looking for,” she said, noting that most of the buyers will be institutional, such as restaurant chefs.

The farmers’ panel will feature a discussion of best practices while the Local Food Success Lightning Round will give producers and buyers a chance to share their experiences and practices.

Medic said that at times it can appear that little progress is being made. But that really isn’t the case, and events like the food summit can keep the momentum going.

“There isn’t a lot I have control over except bringing people together,” she said. “Every time we bring people together we get a little more impetus.”

One important next step, she said, is creating a local growers guide, to help buyers find what they’re looking for. “That’s a big missing piece for us,” she said. “We have a group of local farmers working on that.”

Another “big picture” item, Medic said, is conserving agricultural land. “The more people we have consuming products grown locally, the more farmers get to stay on the farm.”