This Sunday, White River State Park will play host to the fourth installment of Dig IN: A Taste of Indiana, a day-long food festival showcasing work by some of the state's best farmers, chefs, brewers and vintners. Dig IN's Executive Director Rob Gaston sat down with NUVO to preview this year's edition. As this goes to print, tickets are still available, but we advise buying yours as soon as possible; the 2012 edition sold out, and fewer tickets are available this year.
NUVO: One of the goals of Dig IN is to showcase Indiana produce.
Gaston: Our stated goal, and we put this out to the chefs during registration, is that we want 80 percent of their dish to use Indiana products. Between the suggestions from the chefs on our board and the more educated ordering practices of the vendors, I'd say this year we're getting pretty close to, if not attaining, the 80 percent.
NUVO: Why is this so important to Dig IN?
Gaston: There is a huge opportunity for farm-to-fork in this state because we export nearly 90 percent of the agricultural product that we grow and raise here. Yet, in order to fill the shelves, we are spending almost $15 billion dollars to bring food back into the state. There is so much great consumable food that is being grown here, but we're sending it elsewhere. We really want to educate people on where they can buy more Indiana product, instead of buying things that are shipped in from Mexico and Guatemala and California.
NUVO: What new goals are you bringing to the festival and organization?
Gaston: I think the festival has done a really good job so far of highlighting the restaurants that make great efforts to source their menu locally. Going forward, I want us to strive to represent the farmers and bring them more to the forefront. I want to show what they are doing everyday to grow this product. I want to make them more visible and accessible, and that can be a challenge. As a culture, we're very used to running into the market and picking up whatever a recipe calls for. I want to help change that thought pattern and have consumers go to a farmer's market and buying what they have in-season and figure out what they can make with those products instead of it being the other way around.
NUVO: Can a once-a-year festival have that big of an impact?
Gaston: One of the goals I was tasked with when I became executive director was to create a series of year-round events. So instead of just focusing on the one festival every August, we're going to host events throughout the year. We'd like to set up 7-10 events each year.
NUVO: Is there anything in the works right now?
Gaston: We're looking at pulling together a roundtable for producers, chefs and institutions in November to look at how we can get more locally produced goods into the kitchens and cafeterias of schools, institutions and government facilities. A lot of these places have barriers where there food service will not allow local food to get in the door.
NUVO: How do so many vendors get so much into one space on the same day?
Gaston: That's part of the challenge. We're different than almost every other festival in the fact that we will source and pay for any Indiana product chefs choose to use. At an event like Zoobilation, for instance, the restaurants are donating the products because it's a fundraiser for the zoo. We decided to donate the products to the chefs and restaurants, so they can showcase their skills and the variety of goods we produce in-state. But they need to receive the product, store the product, prep the product and then get it to the event. So that's the trade off.
NUVO: Why should we care about sourcing food locally?
Gaston: The best argument you can make is taste. You can talk about fossil fuels and costs of transporting products, but I think you the way you can really convince someone is to have them get a tomato or strawberry from the grocery store that has been shipped in and then go grab one off of the vine, whether from your own backyard or local farm, and taste them side-by-side. There will be no comparison. Everyone can do that; it's that simple.