The Indiana State Department of Agriculture is getting serious about locally grown specialty crops and exploring new ways of getting these products to consumers. On Tuesday, the Indiana Grown Commission will hold its second meeting. This group of farmers, businessmen, and marketers was appointed by Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann to re-develop the Indiana Grown program. The branding program for Indiana produced food products was established over 2 years ago, but a lack of funding and resources kept the program from getting off the ground. ISDA Director Ted McKinney said his agency is now making it a priority, “We see Indiana agriculture as a big tent with room for large farms and small farms, for high tech and low tech operations.” He added that Indiana consumers have expressed a desire for locally produced foods and that ISDA wants to help find ways to meet that need and to provide new market opportunities for Hoosier growers.
McKinney says branding food items as being grown in Indiana may create a market and ultimately increase demand for these products, “Many times, consumers are willing to pay a premium price for these products, so we see value for farmers and businesses up and down the food chain.” The Commission hopes to have the new program ready to present to the next session of the Indiana General Assembly in hopes of obtaining funding.
ISDA is also pushing for the establishment of local food hubs. These are organizations of local growers in a certain area that come together to deliver products to local consumers. McKinney says a statewide research project is being conducted to determine the best way to organize and promote food hubs. Consumers who shop regularly for specialty crops are invited to participate in the study by taking a short online survey to lend more insight into the potential value of food hubs in Indiana (www.surveymonkey.com/s/IndianaFoodHubSurvey). “This study will further enhance Indiana’s reputation as being an agricultural leader across the nation, as well as increase the awareness of locally-based specialty crops to Hoosier consumers,” said McKinney.
Food hubs, gaining popularity as consumer demand and production of specialty crops increases, are local organizations that streamline the process of getting these products from farm to table. While specialty crops are primarily distributed through grocery stores, farmers markets, wholesalers, co-ops, or community supported agriculture programs (CSAs), the ISDA’s current Feasibility Study for Food Hubs in Indiana aims to assess the needs of growers and consumers to determine if a statewide network of regional food hubs will be effective.