Call it a food-for-thought meeting.

Those from the area who produce, buy and consume food gathered to share ideas, exchange information and discuss best practices at the third annual Columbus Area Local Food Summit on Feb. 13 at Donner Center.

“It was about getting people together to help each other,” Purdue Extension educator Kris Medic said.

The food summit, organized by the Bartholomew County Purdue Extension office, is designed so that attendees can learn who is doing what in the local food system, Medic said.

Fifty people attended this year’s summit.

Hunger concerns

One of the focuses of this year’s summit was the issue of food insecurity — the inability of people to have reliable access to affordable and nutritious food — in the area and what can be done to ensure good food is available to all.

James Farmer, a Columbus native and assistant professor in the School of Public Health at Indiana University in Bloomington, gave the keynote speech, titled “Growing a Local Food System: Emerging Trends with Space for All.”

He clarified the problem of food insecurity and said it is necessary to ensure high quality food is available to everyone, not just the affluent, Medic said.

Farmer also explained the importance of local agriculture to a local community, said Medic, who added that an estimated $3.14 million leaves the local economy each year and is spent on food produced in other parts of the country.

Andrew Fritz, an urban agriculture conservationist with the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District, detailed problems of food insecurity faced in that community.

Although Hamilton County is known for being wealthy, more than 26,000 residents in the county have been identified as being food insecure, and more than 40 food banks serve the hungry, Fritz said.

The Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District has created programs designed to increase the number of gardens in the community so that locally grown food can be distributed to the hungry, he added.

Locally grown

Another focus point was locally grown food. Purdue Extension educator Harriet Armstrong discussed ways of educating consumers about how they can bring good, high-quality food to their own tables.

Michelle Cox of the online resource Hometown Food Guide, Teresa Fischer of the Columbus Farmers Market and Nancy Millspaugh of the Bartholomew County School Corp. led a panel discussion about local food issues.

During the panel discussion, Amanda Perkins talked about her work at August Rising Acres, a family farm in Freetown that specializes in organic, non-genetically modified produce.

Perkins described how August Rising Acres uses chemical-free, sustainable farming practices, and uses only non-genetically modified seeds. Perkins also said August Rising Acres is a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, which allows CSA members to have direct access to high quality, locally grown produce picked at its peak.

“I want to bring a sense of community back to the dinner table,” she said.

Best practices

A panel discussion about best practices by producers, intended to share methods and practices of area food growers, included Perkins, Dan Fleming of Columbus-based Fleming Family Beef and Bruce Weaver of Flat Rock-based Country Gardens.

“If you don’t change with the times, you end up going backwards,” Fleming said, noting that many changes have been made in the practices of his family-run business.

More than 20 years ago, Fleming started a business of raising grass-fed beef for direct sale to the consumer. Originally the sales were done in large quantities, such as an entire side of beef. The business was successful, but over the years many people decided they preferred to buy smaller quantities, he said. Fleming changed some of his practices to conform to his customers needs and now specializes in smaller cuts of beef, and also offers home delivery, he added.

Weaver also spoke of being adaptable, but instead of calling it best practices he viewed it as doing what is needed to achieve a result.

“One thing for sure, Mother Nature is going to throw you a curveball each year, and you learn something new about how to do things each year,” Weaver said.

Panelists also led discussions about how greenhouses, high tunnels, water distribution and other practices are being used this winter season to improve both meat and vegetable production.

Working together

The final panel discussion focused on partnerships. Mike Johnston of the Columbus Food Co-op, Janice Kotnick of Love Chapel and Matt John director of the agriculture program at Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus campus led it.

Johnston said he anticipates the co-op’s grocery store at 1580 Central Ave. will be operational soon.

“The co-op will be owned by friends and neighbors and there will be a strong focus on locally sourced food. We want to be a year-round market and expect to be partnered with dozens of local farmers,” Johnston said.

John spoke of programs and practices at the Columbus and Franklin campuses, and said there was ample space and possibilities to grow food to feed people in the areas. The problem has been finding students or volunteers to do the labor involved, he added.

Love Chapel is meeting an increased need from the working poor through its food pantry, and noted that Bartholomew County has multiple food disposition sites. Kotnick said Love Chapel is grateful for the donations it receives from local food producers.

Worthwhile experience

As the summit ended, the 50 participants exchanged farewells and business cards.

Mary Lu Orr, of Columbus, came to learn about food for the needy and met Jessica Murnane, a Columbus Food-Co-op volunteer, and Liz Brownlee of Crothersville-based Nightfall Farms.

Melanie Bachmeyer, owner of Columbus-based Wiley Bachmeyer Farm and representing the food co-op, and Kathy Hahn Keiner, programs and agency relations officer at Gleaners Food Bank, left their tables with cheerful greetings and plans for next year’s summit.

Sixth generation farmers Eric and Kim Everroad of Anderson Farms in Shelby County both said they thought the summit was a good experience.

“This was well worth the time and I really enjoyed it,” Eric Everroad said.