News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 16, 2012

YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Improving our economy, one bite at a time

Companies come and go. Some may stay longer than others, but the simple fact is they can close up shop on a whim and leave town whenever they want. What employment opportunity would we be left with? Look no further than the soil you walk on. We have an amazing landscape here in Indiana with a rich history in agriculture. With companies coming and going, we need to figure out a way to create a new economy by going back to our roots.

The Catskills region in New York is located in a watershed. The area is suited for farming and livestock, but not well-matched for large commercial facilities. For a little more than a decade now their Watershed Agricultural Council has been driving economic development through their farmers while protecting the water quality for 8 million people.

Water quality and local food

One way to purify water is to treat it chemically through a water treatment facility. Another way is to use the landscape to clean the water naturally. By having smart farming practices, agriculture and forestry can be two of the best ways to protect a watershed.

“We want to protect agricultural land as much as possible to provide the food we need and to protect the water quality that we need on a daily basis,” Watershed Agricultural Council communication director Tara Collins said.

Collins says the city of New York sees the smart approach to maintaining water quality, not by trying to clean it at the end, but to keep it clean from the very beginning. The WAC works with farm and forest land owners in the Catskill Watersheds to protect the water.

“With agriculture we are actually using our food shed as our watershed,” Collins said.

From farm to fork

In the Catskills, Sonia Janiszewski’s job as a “farm to market manager” is to create opportunity for farmers by helping them make their land more productive. The region is heading into its 10th year of its “Pure Catskills” buy local campaign.

“I think people are really realizing the benefits of local food, that it tastes better, it is better for you. It can stimulate the local economy, and it helps the environment,” Janiszewski said.

Over time they have organized a member base of more than 250 farmers, putting the food scene on the map. Essentially what they have created is a 68 page printed guide that lists all of their members. How this guide works is, if they receive a request for 60 bee hives to pollinate an apple orchard, the WAC can connect the orchard owner with the right people to pollinate their crop. If they get a call from a consumer looking for a pig for a pig roast, they can easily connect the dots and supply a local pig.

“I have spoken with business people and restaurants who say it is like an indispensible tool for them, because when they are looking for something, it is just a matter of opening the guide, going online and searching through the database and locating someone close that they can get what they need from,” Janiszewski said.

When food is purchased locally, a good percentage is staying in the community and re-circulating. From an economic standpoint, it makes since. It is neighbors supporting neighbors, and that is what community is all about.

“In a lot of ways it has kind of brought people back to one-on-one connection and it has made this whole community of people helping people,” Janiszewski said.

As a culture, we have come to accept cheap and accessible food. What we are seeing is, we are paying for it on the back end, with a degraded environment, polluted water resources and health impacts from food additives.

“When we choose to buy the cleaner, locally connected foods grown in our region, the perception is that the food is more expensive, but really it is not. What we are paying for up front is farmers and producers who are following good farm planning, [and] land conservation practices that are benefiting the environment by keeping water clean, producing good tasting nutritious food at the start. And by doing so we are not paying for it on the back end,” Collins said.

Local food online

The WAC does not aggregate or distribute the food. Their services stop at making connections to the people who contact them. In 2013 they are starting the Pure Catskills Marketplace, which will be an online store that features products from Pure Catskill members. The orders are fulfilled and shipped by each producer. Payments are made through Paypal with a portion of the purchase set aside to keep the Pure Catskill Marketplace up and running. Organizers say the online marketplace will save consumers time from tracking down products at a farmers market. They will now be able to order local products online and have them delivered to their doorstep.

While New York has already invented the wheel for what fits their region best, the Wabash Valley is working on a plan that best fits Hoosiers. In the works is a Wabash Valley Food Hub. The general theme is to connect producers with buyers. A Food Hub could create a sustainable economy that no recession could take away. For more information on the Wabash Valley Food Hub visit www.facebook.com/

WabashValleyFoodHub.

“We are moving back to where we were 50 years ago in terms of food security and that is building a food system within our region that supports the needs of the people with clean, local food,” Collins said.

Making a difference

I haven’t always bought all natural, organic, local food. It was a slow process that I have adjusted my budget to over time. In 2013, I challenge you to spend $10 a week on local products. Considering eggs will cost around $4, it can be an easy change. If just 60,000 people in the entire Wabash Valley made this switch, we could pump more than $30 million in a single cycle into our local economy, each year. Or try picking four things you eat the most of in any given week, for example eggs, cheese, poultry and vegetables. Then look at your list and commit to buying those few items from a local farmer.

“When we work with local food producers, we start to build a food system that supports us locally and regionally, where we don’t have to depend on something much larger,” Collins said.

The bottom line is we all have to eat. When you look at the basics of what we need — clean water, air and food — if we put those at the top of our needs pyramid, every day, we will logically follow the path to a sustainable economy and better health.

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.

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