A growing community of local farmers, food artisans, and slow food advocates affiliated with the Slow Food Indy chapter are working to make Indianapolis a more food-friendly place. This Sunday, Slow Food Indy will hold its annual meeting, with the goal of bringing even more local food-friendly folks to the table. Members and nonmembers alike are invited to share a dish (along with their own dining ware), their ideas, and their questions for a group of panelists who will speak to next steps in furthering the Slow Food mission of "good, clean, fair food for all" here in Indy.
In anticipation of the gathering, Slow Food Indy president Tyler Henderson, farm manager for Growing Places Indy, spoke with me at length about Slow Food Indy, its successes and challenges as his presidency and three-year board term come to an end. While the organization is a relatively small one, run by a volunteer board of nine, the organization has high hopes for continuing to bring awareness to the joys and health benefits of sustainably grown local food — from the chickens at Gunthorp Farms to the lettuce at Seldom Seen Farm.
While Slow Food Indy can't necessarily take on the industrial food system, it can help fundraise and work closely with local efforts to help increase appreciation for local food. "Part of our fundraising is to raise money to help either members or just people who are trying to make a better local food system," Henderson says. Typically, Slow Food Indy runs one or two events a year, both fundraising and social in nature.
"I think what Slow Food Indy and slow food in general has going for it is a very clear and I think very noncontroversial goal and mission and message, which is just good clean fair food for all; and I haven't met someone who thinks that's not a good idea," Henderson says. "I think sometimes there can be a bit of debate on how to get to that point, but the general spirit is that people should eat better, more wholesome food that's better for themselves and their health, better for the environmental health, and better for the local community."
Henderson sees that change happening from the ground up. "We're just trying to promote let's say a smaller more localized food system. I don't know how we really go about starting conversations or having conversations with Dow or Monsanto or the Farm Bureau," Henderson says. "I totally agree that it's something that needs and has to happen. I think we're pretty unsure about how to make that happen locally. It's working reasonably well at the national level; they're doing work related to the Farm Bill and the school lunch program, so those are big issues that can be tackled on a national scale. In an ideal world, someday, we'd have the funding and time, one paid staff member, to work on institutional things."
I also caught up with one of the panelists, Chef Neal Brown, to get his take on the local food scene and its challenges. "I come from sort of a business angle that says the challenges of being a chef are that the demand for organic and for sustainably farmed produce outstrips the supply. And that makes it sort of problematic for guys like me that want really good quality stuff at a really great price," Brown says.
"Personally I think we're sort of at a critical mass. I think we're better off than we were five years ago and I think we're better off than we were two years ago and so forth... I guess if there's one area that I think we should really be focusing on is how to spread the message to a wider and more broad sort of audience. And I think no matter how far you take the message that's always going to be the goal and the challenge, is to get as many people to think about buying food and eating in that way."
As Henderson puts it, "I guess I'm proud of the fact that we're gathering people who care about this; in that sense sort of building up a core of people who can then be agents of change on their own block, in their own workplace, that sort of thing." From the ground up, indeed.
Tyler Henderson's wife Laura, with whom he runs Growing Places Indy and the Indy Winter Farmers Market, will moderate the panel this Sunday from 2-4 p.m. at the Wheeler Arts Community, which will include chef Neal Brown, managing partner of Neal Brown Hospitality (encompassing his restaurants plus the annual Dig IN event), Greg Gunthorp of Gunthorp Farms; Lisa Harris M.D., CEO and medical director of Wishard Health Services; and David Robb, who manages Harvestland Farm.Contact email@example.com for further info, or visit slowfoodindy.com.