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November 11, 2012

Two-day conference focuses on green initiatives

TERRE HAUTE — Discussing green initiatives seems a sustainable enterprise among local residents.

The second annual Our Green Valley Conference sponsored by the Our Green Valley Alliance for Sustainability wrapped up Saturday inside the Indiana State University Hulman Memorial Student Union. Lorrie Heber, president of the alliance, said about 100 participants attended Friday’s program, and a couple dozen came Saturday.

The two-day conference focused on the six areas of local foods, energy consumption, waste stream management, social justice, environmental stewardship and bikability/walkability. Participants reviewed survey results and focus group data, while moving about the conference center to different discussion rooms.

Heber said the group plans to continue the conference as an annual event, helping raise awareness about the issues. In the case of local foods, the benefits of these discussions could be far reaching.

“We have an opportunity to enhance the local economy through food,” she said, pointing out that 90 percent of the area’s food supply is classified as non-local in origin. Meanwhile, one of the Wabash Valley’s strengths is its ability to grow food. The opportunity for economic development can be matched with the need to get better quality food to various demographics within the community, she said.

Educating the public about terms like “quality” and “access” is also essential, as there appears to be a lack of understanding about those, she added.

Jason Saavedra, principal of j3 Concepts, helped facilitate the discussion about local foods Saturday. Among the ideas discussed was a proposed “food hub” organized by ISU. Local farmers have difficulty securing contracts with large institutions such as hospitals because they can’t provide the volume and array of food needed, he explained. However, if multiple farmers combined their efforts, that could change quickly. The idea is being fostered as part of the university’s Unbounded Possibilities program, the Rural-Urban Entrepreneurship Development Institute, he said.

“It would be membership-based, membership-driven,” he said.

Caroline Savage helped facilitate discussions about social justice, a topic so broad she said multiple elements came into play. One 11⁄2 hour discussion spanned quality of life and inclusion techniques for minorities, be they ethnic, religious or gender.

“And even then I think we just touched the surface,” she said, adding the group spent considerable time discussing ways to improve the community in these areas.

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

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