November 23, 2009
A Wonderful Night of Food and Community

Written by Gail Payne, owner of The Goods, which uses her experience in communications, public relations, marketing, branding, fundraising and networking towards bringing the art of everyday living back to everyday life. This post was originally posted on her blog, Living the Goods Life.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, we held a Spirit & Place Festival event titled: “Local Food Trends: Growing Community, Economy and Mutual Delight,” as a teaser for the 2010 Spirit & Place Festival, themed “Food for Thought.” The response was truly overwhelming. I received nearly 100 reservations – enough to double the event; a loud and clear indication that there is lots of interest in local food topics. A total of 64 people crowded into CitYoga and brought fabulous food for the potluck dinner, even on a night when the Colts played New England! Click here to see photos from the event.

Here’s a brief summary of our topics and conversations and contact information for presenters if you would like to follow up for more information. I welcome additional insight from those who attended or have more information.

David Wu, Policy Director for the City of Indianapolis opened the evening offering his perspective on how the City should be positioning itself nationally through food and agriculture. “Some cities boast that they are on the ocean or the water; other cities have mountains. Some people refer to Indianapolis as being ‘out in the middle of a cornfield.’ Rather than making that a negative statement, we should be using it to our advantage. We should be saying: ‘We’re located in the heartland, in the middle of the best farmland and agriculture heritage in the country.'”

PANEL DISCUSSION ON FOOD & PLACE:

Neal Brown, owner Neal Brown Hospitality Group and Mapleton Fall Creek resident
Laura Henderson, manager Indy Winter Farmers’ Market and co-partner in Growing Places, an urban farming initiative
Janine Betsey, president King Park Neighborhood Development Corp.
Ann Schmelzer, Indiana State Dept. of Agriculture
Matthew Jose, owner Big City Farms CSA and co-partner in Growing Places
Moderator: Marc McAleavey, director of Public Allies, Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center and Mapleton Fall Creek resident

Janine Betsey spoke of how many different types of food offerings there are in just the King Park area. “We mesh different food traditions with Tease Me, Country Kitchen, and Goose the Market. Each one is a valuable food destination in the neighborhood, serving different people.” She added that King Park and Mapleton Fall Creek are working together to embrace what is going on in either adjacent neighborhood and help residents be better connected through food-related businesses and projects.

Neal Brown spoke about spending time away from the city this summer and coming back to realize we aren’t doing as bad (on local food issues) as we might think. “We still have a long way to go but it is definitely better [in the food business] than it ever has been.”

Laura Henderson reported that more than 1,500 attended the opening of the Indy Winter Farmers’ Market on Sat., Nov. 14, showing a growing support for local products. “Farmers’ markets are not an elitist thing. They need to be inviting to everyone. Everyone wants and deserves good food.”

Matthew Jose added that he thinks that despite the renewed interest in local food, he believes that our “agricultural intelligence” has been lost. “We may know what we like to eat and what’s good for our bodies, but so few seem to really understand how our food is grown; how it is produced.” Janine added that we also need to teach awareness around growing safely by testing land and being aware of possible pollutants.

Janine and Ann agreed that we need to capitalize on what we have and tell our story. “We have to look at what’s here and be proud of it,” said Ann.

SMALL GROUP DISCUSSIONS
Participants could choose from the following six topics to have dinner and conversation:
1. Community Kitchens – Local entrepreneur Linda Gilkerson led a conversation about her new venture, Indy’s Kitchen, a fully equipped, commercially licensed kitchen available for rent by the hour. Shared-use kitchens are in operation in several other cities, and the owners of Indy’s Kitchen believe that Indianapolis will benefit from this idea. Indy’s Kitchen will be available for small business entrepreneurs to test, start, or expand their food-based enterprises as well as for cooking classes and cooking parties. For more information: indyskitchen@gmail.com, 317.631.1923.
2. East 10th St.Jane Henegar, Spirit and Place board chair, co-chair of 10 East District Team for the Superbowl Legacy Project and long-time east-side resident, and Becky Hostetter, a local chef, member of 10 East District team and also a long-time east-side resident, led a discussion about creating a thriving local food scene on the near eastside, including street vending food carts, food co-op, and locally-owned restaurants serving diverse and locally-grown food. “We discussed realism versus optimism,” Jane summarized. “We want to encourage entrepreneurs and eliminate barriers; sell to neighbors while also attracting people to the neighborhood; and seize momentum on Super Bowl legacy project in 2012 while being realistic about development and pace.” For more information contact Jane: henegut@earthlink.net.
3. Food for Thought – Indiana Humanities Council President and Spirit & Place advisory committee member Keira Amstutz led a conversation about next year’s theme in both organizations: “Food for Thought.” Her table suggested the following topics: roof-top gardens, community gardens, films and speakers such as Judy Schad or Bill McKibben, food celebrities like Wolfgang Puck, field trips, Indy’s ethnic culture and history, a large one night potluck, and community cookbooks. For more information contact Keira: kamstutz@indianahumanities.org.
4. Urban Farming – Matthew Jose and Tyler Henderson, partners in Growing Places, an urban farming initiative, discussed what it means to be an urban farmer and how to encourage more local growing. Specific topics discussed included clarifying the difference between community gardening and urban farming. Urban farming is a for-profit company, no different than a normal farmer. It’s just located in an urban environment instead of rural area. Growing Places’ new garden at White River State Park will be a demonstration and training garden where anyone can come learn how to grow food and seed other community gardens. They also hope to encourage urban land owners to consider converting empty lots into useable farm land. For more information about Big City Farms’ CSA contact Matthew: growyerown@gmail.com.
5. Dig In – A Taste of Indiana – This will be a new event featuring locally grown foods and restaurants. Neal Brown and Ann Schmelzer led a discussion about this new celebration of Indiana agriculture. The group discussed how this can be education through entertainment; redefine our external perception of ourselves and our strengths; and bring people together in a food community. For more information, contact Ann: aschmelzer@isda.in.gov.
6. Farmers’ Markets – Laura Henderson led a discussion about how to strengthen all the local farmers’ markets. Safety is a top priority and all vendors should be consulted about rules and regulations on labeling, production, etc. Not all markets accept food stamps, which limits lower-income shoppers from accessing quality food. A farmers’ market association, network or at least regular meetings among all markets could help share information, help eliminate duplicative efforts and maximize resources. Starting more markets also requires more vendors. How can we do both without spreading existing farmers too thin and adding new ones to the mix. For more information, contact Laura: urbanearthindy@gmail.com or visit IndyWinterFarmersMarket.Blogspot.com.
Donations were accepted to benefit the Indy Winter Farmers’ Market. After the dinner, Laura announced that these donations would be used to purchase goods at the market to benefit a food community friend, Gabe Jordan, who was the recent victim of a shooting on the southeast side of Indianapolis. Nearly $300 was given to support the Jordan family.

THANK YOU to everyone who participated. Thanks again to CitYoga for allowing us to use its space. It was a great evening and proof that next year’s Spirit & Place topic, “Food for Thought,” will be red hot!

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