News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 3, 2013

Panel offers insight into sustainable food practices

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Local foods enthusiasts continue their hope to grow a wide range of interwoven sustainability initiatives.

A coalition of organizations hosted an informational session inside Indiana State University’s Federal Hall on Saturday afternoon, after the Downtown Terre Haute Winter Farmers’ Market. Titled “Sustainable Food for a Sustainable Community,” panel discussions included representatives from ISU’s Institute for Community Sustainability, the White Violet Center, Sodexo and the Terre Foods Cooperative initiative.

Jason Saavedra of J3 Concepts said work continues on behalf of the university’s planned food hub, which will link local growers with large-scale consumers ranging from grocers and universities to hospitals and restaurants. With a tentative launch planned this summer, he said the initial organization will be virtual in nature, utilizing a membership-based website where growers can meet the posted needs of customers. Support for the project has been very strong, particularly among the growers, who can increase their operations once certain of a market outlet, he explained.

“We would actually like more on the consumer end, and that’s one of our big drives right now,” he said, noting Baesler’s Market and Sodexo, which handles food service for ISU, are both on the project’s board of directors. “And they’re big supporters.”

Locally owned restaurants and hospitals are also potential customers who might want to use local food as opposed to products shipped over great distances, but currently can’t find growers able to produce the quantity needed, he said. The food hub will allow customers the ability to mix and match among a number of local businesses, he explained.

The three-hour forum included numerous question-and-answer sessions as well as a screening of the film “Fresh.” Consensus was found in the idea that Wabash Valley consumers would like to see more local food choices, but are finding a shortage of opportunity in purchasing them. Meanwhile, farmers are willing to grow the kinds of food desired, but the investment required to do so necessitates they have some guarantee of an outlet for sales of perishable items such as fruits and vegetables.

Robyn Morton spoke on behalf of the Terre Foods Cooperative initiative, an organization driving to establish a local store dedicated to the sale of those types of products. The organization currently has 475 members, she said, explaining they need about 600 in addition to the raising of member loans before approaching banks about launching the estimated $1.6 million business.

“Those were the bench marks they want to see from us,” she said, expressing her confidence that local demand is sufficient to warrant the creation of such a store.

Farmers, she said in her discussion, can’t make six-figure investments in the infrastructure needed to generate fresh milk and eggs without a viable outlet. Mega-stores won’t deal with the smaller, local producers, but Terre Foods would specialize in those kind of operations, she said, likening it to the old “corner grocery store” that senior citizens recall from their youth.

Jennifer Tiemann, of Appleseed Farms, agreed as she explained the complicated process involved in getting products into big stores. Crediting Bob Baesler, owner of Baesler’s Market, as instrumental in her family’s business, she said few retailers are as easy to work with.

“Bob’s all about local,” she said, noting his was one of the farm’s first clients.

Located on 80 acres outside of Fairbanks, Appleseed Farms has grown into a diversified operation selling flowers, vegetables and eggs, in addition to baked goods and pie fillings. The farm also features orchards and u-pick blueberries, as well as a state-certified nursery for plants and commercial kitchen.

“It’s four generations of women,” she said, proudly explaining the partnership between her grandmother, Delores Edwards, mother Charlotte Smith, and 5-year-old daughter, Samantha. “She’s our taste-tester. She’s actually been at the market since she was born.”

Over the years, the group has grown from area farmers’ markets, into Baesler’s Market, and now Whole Foods as well as 60 other venues across the country and some overseas. This year, she’ll be adding poultry as meat in addition to eggs, goat milk and cheese.

“This will be the first year we do that,” she said. “You have to be diversified anymore to support it.”

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.