Foodshed presentation tackles challenges of the local food system

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By: J.C. Lee
jclee@flavor574.com

Jennifer Shephard / The Elkhart Truth

New research aims to pave the way for getting more Elkhart County produce on local plates.

Over the last several months, researcher Katie Jantzen of the Elkhart County Foodshed Initiative interviewed farmers, markets and customers about how to get people to eat more locally sourced food.

She’ll be presenting her findings at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, at The Bricolage at 206 S. Main St. in Goshen.

Jantzen said her subjects’ concerns all came down to three things: convenience, communication and awareness.

Shopping for locally sourced food can be inconvenient because markets, unlike department stores, don’t have everything. The Elkhart County Foodshed Initiative would have to find out how to make it easier for people to find what they need locally, Jantzen’s survey suggests.

“Some people would say they’re less inclined to shop at, say, the farmers’ market here in Goshen or Maple City Market because they know they can’t get everything there that they need on their grocery list,” Jantzen said.

There also needs to be better communication between farmers, markets and customers, Jantzen said.

“A lot of them have an interest in sourcing more local food and are very excited, but they just didn’t know who the producers were.”

Whether there’s a restaurant that needs to find a local source for its greens or farmers who need to supplement an order with vegetables from smaller producers, Jantzen said there needs to be a way to connect every one of them.

“Restaurants in Elkhart County, a lot of them have an interest in sourcing more local food and are very excited, but they just didn’t know who the producers were,” she said. “Maybe they know a couple to get greens, but they just don’t know who else they can purchase local food from.”

And then there’s the need for awareness about access to and the benefits of locally sourced food, Jantzen said. That could be as simple as knowing when the Goshen Farmer’s Market is open, or the seasons in which different produce grows.

There’s also the bigger question of the economics of locally sourced food.

“One basic (question) … is the mindset of local food and why it costs more and why we, as a whole, should be paying more,” Jantzen said. “That’s something that’s just not in the general consumer’s consciousness. They’re not aware of what goes into food production.”

With Thursday’s presentation, Jantzen will also propose two options to address those three concerns.

  • Print a local food guide, which will serve as a listing or a map of places which customers can use to find locally sourced groceries.
  • Make a searchable database online so people can connect with producers and markets.

The Elkhart County Foodshed Initiative is a Purdue University-led group which aims to help people better understand where their food comes from and to encourage healthier eating habits.

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