Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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We can reap dividends from what we grow here

By Laura Henderson on February 5, 2012
© Indystar

Without a doubt, Indianapolis has seen significant progress in building and supporting a local food community over the past three years. We have new farmers markets; our first food co-op; more locally owned restaurants are buying from urban and regional farms; several successful for-profit and nonprofit urban farms have taken root; a robust food truck scene has rolled out; EBT and vegetable vouchers are increasingly available at farmers market; and we're gleefully drowning in Indianapolis-brewed beers. We should celebrate what we have gained, and let it inspire us to do more.

The Indiana State Department of Health recently released a report called "Hoosier Farmer? Emerging Food Systems in Indiana." Author Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center reports that Indiana -- the nation's 10th largest farm state -- imports 90 percent of its food supply. It's not because we don't have enough farmland, but because the majority of our farmland is producing commodity crops for export. Hoosier consumers spend more than $14.5 billion on food from out-of-state sources. Imagine what it would mean to the local economy if we could shift those figures 10 percent toward local food communities committed to growing, processing, selling and consuming food in Indiana. Then imagine a 20 percent shift. This is a goal we have many reasons to pursue.

The Indiana State Department of Health reports that 29 percent of adolescents and 65 percent of adults in Indiana are overweight and obese. The American Fitness Index ranks Indianapolis 45th among the countries 50 largest metropolitan areas. In addition to higher obesity rates, Indianapolis has a lower percent of the population in excellent or very good health, and higher rates of other lifestyle and diet-related illness than the (rather poor) national average. Interestingly, at least seven of the cities ranked in the top 10 have renowned local food communities.

One of the most effective ways to improve our weight, health and well-being is to eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, and significantly less-processed foods. The food options in fast food outlets, many restaurants, even school cafeterias, hospitals and grocery stores all too often encourage these health-degrading eating habits, and rely on food purchasing systems that siphon money out of the local economy. Shopping at farmers markets, getting a subscription of produce from a local farm, and neighborhood food co-ops make it easier to eat seasonally and cook meals with fresh ingredients. Local food communities encourage the process of eating better and build a local economy around it.

Bread for the World's 2012 Hunger Report notes that the United States does not produce enough fruits and vegetables for Americans to meet the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, the report states that, "A rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population is demanding healthy, sustainably produced foods. Small and medium-sized producers, the farmers best suited to meet this demand, receive virtually no support from U.S. farm policy." Local food communities are integral not only to feeding the world's communities, but to building robust community-based economies that are more resilient in an uncertain global economy.

Meanwhile, our current corporate-based food systems are failing to keep our people, our farmers and our economy healthy and competitive. Meter's report informs us that in 2009 net cash income from farming in Indiana was $1.1 billion less than in 1969 (adjusted for inflation), even though farming "productivity" doubled over the same period.

What we see in the growth of our local food communities is our power to create change. Individuals can make a difference by committing to purchase even $5 every week within the local food community. We must bring farmers, planners, policymakers and politicians, food entrepreneurs, health advocates, hunger advocates and our hungry around the same table to commit to investing in a local food community.

Efforts are already under way. The Indy Food Fund, a collaborative effort initiated by Marion County Health and Hospital Corp., Growing Places Indy, Local Initiative Support Corporation and Butler's Center for Urban Ecology, will give grants ranging from $500 to $10,000 to nonprofit organizations and businesses to help support food-related initiatives. These projects can include, but are not limited to, community gardens with market stands, value chain projects, food hubs, farmers' markets, farm-to-institutions projects, urban farms, healthy corner store initiatives and marketing and consumer cooperatives.

Together we have the power to transform the health, the economy, the quality of life, and the long-term sustainability of our city through local food communities. Let's prove to the world that Indianapolis truly is a Super City, not a city resigned to being super-sized.

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