News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 2, 2013

Healthy Steps: Workshop offers tips on how to make communities in the Wabash Valley healthier

Food system analyst says current system takes wealth out of communities

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Improving a local food system, as well as making exercise a daily part of life, are ways to build a healthier community, said two featured speakers at a “Building Communities for Health” workshop Wednesday at the Landsbaum Center for Health Education.

Ken Meter, president of Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis and a food systems analyst, stressed it is important that the U.S. food system change, taking advantage of small farms and food sources closer to people’s homes.

“Food systems should build health, wealth, connection and capacity,” Meter said.

“The current food system takes wealth out of communities, especially rural communities,” he said.

Meter said that most food produced in Indiana is not consumed by Hoosiers.

“Hoosiers spend $16 billion on food annually, but 90 percent of that food comes from outside of the state,” Meter said.

“That is actually $14 billion leaving Indiana every year as people eat in the 10th largest farm state in the United States,” Meter said.

Meter said the U.S. has invested in a commodity system that is based on exporting food globally. “We have essentially put a lot of federal money into a system that gets farmers to buy bigger technology than they could afford on their own and also focuses on shipping food far away,” Meter said.

“That system is really what makes [farming] unsustainable because we are using federal money in a way that takes wealth out of Indiana communities,” Meter said.

Mark Fenton is a national public health, planning and transportation consultant. He suggested designing streets and paths in cities that encourage people to walk and bike more, as is done in a majority of European countries where people walk and ride daily. That activity will reduce obesity in the United States, he said.

“We need to build communities where physical activity is a part of daily life,” Fenton said.

He contents physical activities are social and environmental necessities. He points to the increasing number of overweight children and adults in the United States. Adults need 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week and children 60 minutes. Only 20 percent of Americans get this, Fenton said.

Fenton said 365,000 deaths annually are a result of physical inactivity and poor nutrition. Americans now use automobiles to go everywhere, instead of walking and using bikes.

Efforts that allow people to walk or ride a bike close to a destination can greatly increase the health of a community.

Meter said efforts such as the Terre Foods Cooperative Market, working to start a business that uses produce from Wabash Valley farmers, is a good start to encourage businesses to work together to meet costs and production needs and forms an economy that lasts for the local area, he said.

“It creates a cluster of local food businesses that trades with each other and builds wealth and retains it,” he said.

About 3,500 farms in the state sell direct to consumers, accounting for $22 million in sales, but that is just 0.3 percent of statewide sales, he said.

“The good news is there has been a 12 percent rise in the number of farms selling locally and a 24 percent increase in sales in the last five years in Indiana,” Meter said.

“I would argue this first connect between farmers and consumers is the single force driving change in the agriculture system today. Our need is to connect in new ways and build new relationships and do commerce on the basis of trust and relationships rather than the basis of greed,” Meter said.

The workshop was sponsored by the Indiana Healthy Weight Initiative; Union Hospital; Unbounded Possibilities Center for Health, Wellness and Life Enrichment; and Chances and Services for Youth.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.