ISDA Wants To Keep More Indiana-Grown Food In State
The creation of food hubs, which connect local producers and buyers, could help boost Indiana’s economy and fulfill demand for local food products, according to an Indiana State Department of Agriculture a study released Monday.
Food hubs can be a broad term, but Agriculture Department Director Ted McKinney says people should think of the word “aggregation.”
It’s a way for farmers and food producers, often via a website, to connect with buyers.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s study, 90 percent of Indiana’s food comes from out-of-state, yet Hoosier crops accounted for the 7th largest market value in the country.
Based on recommendations from the ISDA study, the state will launch a virtual food hub network, to help link regional hubs and share resources.
ISDA, working with the State Department of Health, will also explore ways to ensure food hubs fit into existing categories for food safety regulations or work with lawmakers to add them in.
James Jones is with a group in Fort Wayne looking to set a food hub up. He says the study told him that food hubs are really about cooperation, not competition.
“That Indiana users would get together, work, develop relationships locally so that Indiana’s produce and grow Indiana’s own goods,” Jones says.
ISDA Buy Local and Indiana Grown manager David King says big-box retailers, including Walmart, Kroger, and Whole Foods, are just as interested in food hubs as individual consumers.
He says, for instance, if Marsh wanted a large quantity of a locally-grown crops, it would rather go through a food hub, which can then reach out to multiple small producers.
“This allows the smaller producers to compete with maybe what would be just some large producers that produced it all,” he says.
More than 70 percent of consumers surveyed in the study say they’re at least somewhat willing to pay more for locally grown food, although Ted McKinney cautions farmers who get too eager hearing that.
“There’s many, many consumer studies that are ripe with consumers saying, ‘Sure, I’m willing to pay more for whatever the feature it is.’ And then they don’t do that,” he says.
Still, McKinney says the state is excited about the possibilities presented by food hubs. He does note that while the state is happy to provide information and help generate collaboration, it has no plans to subsidize food hub growth.