There are two things that Ted McKinney, Director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, knows for sure: Indiana agriculture is much more diverse than the current marketing reflects, and Hoosiers love to shop local. So a while back, the ISDA came up with Indiana Grown, a program that, in theory, “provided the producers that wish to use it and opportunity to add a label in the hopes that it might have value.” Like the Real California seal that goes on all California-grown produce, McKinney hoped the availability of the sticker would be a huge incentive to both the consumer and the producers. Except, as McKinney so tidily summed up, “it has simply not worked. “
In the true spirit of our agricultural roots, McKinney and the ISDA tilled up that soil and started over to make the program work again. The first step was securing the votes to form a commission in the legislature, which turned out to be one of the easiest parts.
“The Indiana legislature, to their credit, introduced and passed unanimously—no dissenting votes either in committee or either chamber—legislation that called for the creation of a commission with very diverse backgrounds that would then help us help the state structure an Indiana grown program that would be more vibrant and more useful to everybody, from producers to restaurateurs, retailers, and everyone in between,” McKinney said.
The first step for the commission is to decide on what the guidelines should be for a producer to be allowed to label it “Indiana Grown.” One major change the commission will make is to widen the definition for what counts as being “grown,” which they would like to expand to fit anything that comes out of the soil or raised on Indiana soil—from lumber to pork and tomatoes. That means Indiana Grown labels on items from the hardware store to the grocery store, allowing more opportunities for consumers keep their money local. McKinney hopes to keep government intervention in the project small, limiting their role to setting up guidelines for qualification and letting consumers choose beyond that.
“The idea is that we would sort of help manage a brand. The Indiana Grown label, or whatever it might be—it may go by a different name—we would help establish the brand and the rules—the white lines down the highway, as it were—so that everyone who wants to can participate, so we have more consumption and production of Indiana Grown products.” The possible label qualifications would not be dependent on a farm’s use of technology or farm size, from the half-acre urban farmers to commercial producers.
“This absolutely would be for small farms, but it’s also for large farms. It’s also silent on levels of technology. It could be someone who’s [growing] organic, and for people who use or seek out the benefits of a biotechnology crop.” The commission’s only concern, as far as labeling, is whether or not the end product was produced in Indiana.
That also means the Indiana Grown label will have to expand to fit a wider definition of what “Indiana Grown” means.
“Red Gold, for example. Maybe not all of their tomatoes come out of the ground in Indiana, but the vast majority do and they are certainly processed here. Red Gold may seek to use an Indiana Grown label. But it could go all the way to hardwood timber. Most people do not know that Indiana is renowned nationally for it’s hardwoods for use in office furniture and the like. So when we say ‘all agricultural products,’ we mean it.”
The commission’s next meeting will be from 10AM - 4PM on Wednesday, Sept. 17
at Indiana Farm Bureau, 225 S. East Street Indianapolis, in Meeting Room 7 Central. The commission’s meetings are open to the public and free parking is available.