Leslie Schaller, director of programs at Appalachian Center for Economic Networks in Athens, Ohio, (center near red table) talks at the Indiana Uplands Winter Food Conference in Bedford. Courtesy photo by Jeni Waters
Leslie Schaller, director of programs at Appalachian Center for Economic Networks in Athens, Ohio, (center near red table) talks at the Indiana Uplands Winter Food Conference in Bedford. Courtesy photo by Jeni Waters
BEDFORD — More than 100 people from across Indiana spent Thursday at Bedford’s StoneGate Arts and Education Center to talk about farms and food.

The Indiana Uplands Winter Food Conference brought together people who had participated in 12 listening sessions conducted in 11 counties of south-central Indiana this past fall. The sessions were presented by Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement and Sustainable Food Systems Science group and gave everyone a chance to discuss community food systems — what works, what doesn’t.

Thursday’s sessions revisited some of the broad topics discussed at the past sessions — economic development, coordinating food from seed to the plate, networking — and offered a look at what other groups have done.

“Everyone eats, so everyone is a stakeholder in this,” said Jacob Simpson, resilience liaison for the IU Center for Rural Engagement.

Simpson said more than 200 people provided feedback ahead of Thursday’s event and the first food conference reached its capacity of 100. That participation excited Simpson because it shows the interest of so many people in Indiana’s regional food system. The people who have contributed include economists, farmers, food retailers, marketing people and others who work in the public and private sector.

“I think it’s rare that you get that diverse a cross section to a discussion,” Simpson said.

Two of the people attending the Bedford conference came from opposite sides of Indiana and were not in the targeted 11-county area. Virginia Pleasant, from Lake County, works with the Northwest Indiana Food Council. She was talking with Kathy Codey, from Batesville, who is a dietician and member of the Food and Growers Association. After attending the morning sessions the two were sharing what their groups were doing.

“We’re trying to build a statewide network,” Pleasant explained.

“It’s hard work. We’re going against the tide,” Codey said, talking about the importance of using local food and farmers to provide more healthful food to schools, businesses and area residents. “It takes more time and effort. The value of it is great, so we are here to support it.”
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