A coalition of groups hopes to spark a community initiative to grow and expand the local food system with an event planned for Feb. 24 in Seymour.

The Seymour Area Food Summit is designed to bring together growers, farmers and other food producers, chefs, community leaders, grocers, food service directors, health officials, entrepreneurs and one other group — food consumers.

One of the highlights of the summit at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour will come from Ken Meter, a food systems analyst with Crossroads Resource Center, said Sara Bane, who is chairwoman of the Vision 2025 promoting health committee.

Vision 2025, Hometown Collaboration Initiative and Purdue Extension are organizing the summit.

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In 2013, Meter reported that of the $300 million-plus spent on food in the Jackson County-Bartholomew County region, only $747,000 was spent on locally raised items.

He is scheduled to give an update on those numbers during a session entitled “The State of our Local Food Economy” during the morning session. Other speakers in the morning include Purdue Extension’s Emily Toner, who will discuss why and how food councils came about, and Dr. Steven Windley, who will discuss eating for better health.

The afternoon session will feature discussion groups focused on farmers markets and local foods and discussion about the new steps.

Bane said the Hometown Collaboration Initiative’s decision to focus on local foods because of community interest led to a presentation and group discussion with Jodee Ellett, Purdue Extension’s local foods coordinator.

“She really encouraged us to host a food summit to get the word out about our current initiatives and to synergize ideas and efforts related to our local food system,” Bane said of Ellett.

Bane said it became very apparent to members of the promoting health committee early on that this community has a strong interest in eating healthier and having more access to fresh local food.

“Both sets of my grandparents were farmers, and I grew up eating fresh food straight from the farm,” Bane said. “I’m not a farmer myself, but it’s not hard to see how broken our system has become. Why should we be eating processed food shipped from thousands of miles away if we can be eating fresh food grown very near to our home while also supporting our local producers and local economy?”

The result from the summit will be great possibilities of collaboration for creating jobs, doing business and expanding the economy in Jackson County, Bane said.

Across the nation, local foods have emerged as a growing business sector, she said.

New jobs are being created in the local food system, including producers and distributors, and in new markets, such as food hubs and mobile grocery services, Bane said.

Consumers are very interested in buying local food and are driving the demand in grocery stores, restaurants and farmers markets, she added.

“I hope attendees walk away from the summit with a real sense that every single person in our community is a stakeholder in this process,” Bane said.

She said organizers are hopeful that a Seymour area food council can be put in place, and Vision 2025’s long-term goal is to eventually establish a food hub. That hub would manage the collection, marketing and distribution of food items so that even small farms can sell food to large facilities and retail stores, Bane said.

“This is a very lofty goal, but we aren’t afraid to dream big,” she said.

An effort also is in place to revamp Seymour’s farmers market, including hiring a full-time manager to market and bolster attendance of both vendors and patrons, Bane said.

“A strong farmers market means more patrons for downtown businesses and also fosters a strong sense of community,” she said.

If you go

What: Seymour Area Food Summit

When: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 24

Where: Jackson County Learning Center, 323 Dupont Drive, Seymour

Cost: $15, which includes a meal made with beef, grain, eggs and greens from Jackson County producers

Registration: extension.purdue.edu/pages/event.aspx?intEventID=2058&ED=5048 (deadline Feb. 15)

Organizers: Seymour’s Vision 2025, Hometown Collaboration Initiative and Purdue Extension

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.