Seymour is taking big steps to get the community more interested in eating and investing in locally grown food.

From a makeover and expansion of the farmers market to establishing an area food council, the changes are expected to lead to a healthier city, improve the local economy, connect local farmers with consumers for better access to products and help ensure all people have enough food to eat.

On Thursday, more than 70 people attended the first food summit to be in Seymour at the Jackson County Learning Center. A similar event was conducted Tuesday in Columbus.

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Those attending represented a wide range of interests, including local producers, food pantry operators, food retailers, community leaders, health specialists and those just interested in knowing where their food comes from.

One of the biggest obstacles to improving a local food system is providing better access to the variety of products people want, said Sara Bane, a member of the Vision 2025 promoting health committee.

And that’s where the Seymour Farmers Market will play a bigger role than it ever has, Bane said.

“We saw that there is a lot of local interest in making our market better,” she said.

In the past, the market has been more of a drop-in service, making it difficult for customers to know when vendors would be there and what products might be available.

Beginning this year, set market hours will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays in the Walnut Street parking lot south of the Seymour Library. The market will open the last weekend in May and close the last weekend in October.

“It’s really hard to be able to go to the market and get a consistent amount of stuff if you really don’t know when people are going to be there,” she said.

Besides locally grown fruit, vegetables and flowers, which have always been sold, many new vendors are being recruited this year to sell grass-fed beef, organic eggs, whole wheat flour, hydroponic greens, canned jellies and jams, baked goods, honey and goat milk products.

“We want to give local producers a source of income and promote the sale of local products,” Bane said. “And we want to make healthy food accessible to all regardless of income.”

The committee is working to make it possible for people to use SNAP (food stamps) and WIC benefits at most if not all booths.

Along with making healthier foods available, Bane said it’s important to educate people on how to prepare such foods.

“You can go to the farmers market and get an eggplant, but what in the heck are you going to do with it?” Bane said. “So education is one of our goals, too.”

To add variety and attract more people, the market also will include a limited number of prepared food booths and homemade craft vendors and specialty products such as soaps and candles, along with a Book a Buck wagon, selling used books for just $1. Profits from the book sales will support both the market and the Friends of the Jackson County Public Library.

There are plans to have cooking and gardening demonstrations, live music and group painting to make the market a social gathering place.

“We want to enhance the quality of life in our area because a farmers market isn’t just about the food; it’s also a gathering place,” said Bane, a part-time teacher at Seymour High School. “It’s a place that fosters a sense of community, and we want to bolster the use of the downtown area.”

A new farmers market committee is being formed as part of the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s agribusiness committee. Using available funds, the chamber will be hiring a manager to organize and oversee the market. That person will be responsible for recruiting vendors, answering questions from the public, working with the health department on following rules and regulations, planning events and advertising the market.

Bane said the market manager is a key piece in making Seymour’s farmers market successful.

“We found when we visited other markets, what made them successful is that they had a market manager,” she said.

More than $2,000 is being spent to advertise the market this year and draw in people from Seymour and surrounding areas.

“In the past, vendors have felt like there wasn’t enough advertising, so we’re really trying to make the ad campaign a big thing,” she said.

The market will be one of the featured participants in Seymour Main Street’s new Downtown Shop Around event, where customers can visit downtown businesses and receive a punch card, which can be turned in for a chance to win gift certificates.

Krystal Harrell of North Vernon and formerly of Seymour is a holistic health and wellness coach and is in the process of opening a local herb, supplement and wellness store, which is why she attended Wednesday’s food summit.

She supports the expansion of the farmers market to benefit both consumers and producers in the area.

“It’s really a win-win for a consumer, as you will likely pay less overall for fresh, high-quality produce and items,” she said. “At the same time, you can ask and you will know where and how your food was produced. I like to know where my food is coming from, and what better way to know than to ask the person you are buying it from face to face?”

By cutting out the middle man, producers are able to recoup more of their costs, giving them an opportunity to grow and sell more, she said.

And buying local means you are investing in the community.

“Anytime we can put our money back into the hands of local people, we should,” she said. “These producers are our neighbors, our friends, and we should continue to support them as they continue to feed our community.”

David and Kim Sturgill, who operate VanAntwerp’s Farm Market just north of Reddington, say they are excited about the possibilities.

“We are willing to help out with anything that we can as far as getting the market up and running,” Kim Sturgill said. “We are really happy to see this going on.”

Although they have current commitments to sell their produce at other markets on Saturdays, she said they may sign up to sell at the Seymour Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings.

“We are excited that the community is joining forces with local farmers to help promote a more healthy future for us, our children and our grandchildren,” she said. “We feel it’s very important to teach healthier habits to kids and adults alike.”

Dennis and Tricia Bowers and Butch and Mona Plumer of Plumer and Bowers Farmstead also are planning on taking advantage of the opportunities by becoming involved with the farmers market.

Located in rural Seymour, the two families produce and sell pastured eggs and beef and whole wheat flour.

“Jackson County’s rich agriculture heritage has given our community fantastic potential to grow and sell most of our own food,” Tricia Bowers said. “We have talented farmers, many of whom would love to sell their food locally to people that they actually know and care about.”

By attending the food summit, the Bowerses and Plumers said they agreed they felt more connected to the community.

“The food summit was a terrific catalyst for conversations about health, community building and local food,” Tricia Bowers said. “From our standpoint, it was a great way to learn from other producers, health and business professionals. It was also a wonderful way to meet people who are interested in growing or consuming local foods.”

Since everyone must eat, Tricia Bowers said it only makes sense to eat good food that is good for you and that is readily available here.

“If people are serious about buying local food, we have faith that our county’s farmers will skillfully provide,” she said. “This genuine interest in our community providing for itself is powerful and wonderful for our economy and or relationships.”

It’s important for the community to work together to make decisions and provide for its residents, she added.

“We need to let our government know that we desire true nourishment for our bodies and that we desire that nourishment to be raised and sold in our own community,” she said. “Farmers can and will supply the foods needed and desired by our community if we as consumers ask and encourage them to do so.”

Besides the farmers market, other topics of discussion at Wednesday’s food summit were the state of the food economy in the Jackson County area, setting up a food council, eating for better health and getting youth involved through Seymour’s community garden.

The summit was organized by Vision 2025, a grassroots organization of young leaders in Seymour, the state Hometown Collaboration Initiative, the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce and Purdue Extension.

One of the highlights of the seminar was a meal prepared by Lucille’s Home Cookin’ in Crothersville that featured locally grown products available in Jackson County, including beef, eggs and flour from Plumer and Bowers Farmstead and lettuce and greens from Julie’s Farm Fresh in Elizabethtown.

Guest speakers included Ken Meter with Crossroads Resource Center, Emily Toner with Purdue Extension Marion County, Dr. Steven Windley with Integrative Medicine at Schneck Medical Center and Seymour High School FFA members.

If you go

Seymour Area Farmers Market Vendor Meeting

6:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 29 at the Seymour Library

All returning and new vendors should plan to attend this meeting to learn more about: registering to sell at the market, new market guidelines, getting questions answered and what’s new this year including food booths and homemade craft vendors.

Vendor registration fee for the entire 2016 season – $20

Rookie (age 17 or younger) registration fee – free

Market season: Last weekend in May through last weekend in October

Hours: Wednesdays 4-6 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Questions? Contact Sara Bane at seymourfarmmarket@gmail.com or call 812-521-1050.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.