Local foods bring global benefits

When the kilocalories required to bring Americans’ dinner from farm to plate exceed the kilocalories in the food itself, local farmers aren’t the only losers, according to Steve Bonney of Sustainable Earth.

Bonney, the driving force behind the 2008 Food, Farm and Energy Gathering taking place Saturday at the State Fairgrounds, hopes the conference will nurture the budding local foods movement in Indiana. The day-long event will bring together small farmers, gardeners, foodies and others interested in a sustainable way of life. Access to food is the main issue the gathering will tackle.

Some estimates of typical American “food miles” are upwards of 2,000 miles, Bonney says. While cheap food is the goal of many consumers, he points out the myriad ways consumers pay for low food prices. The true cost of food, he says, must factor in environmental damage from big agriculture, the health and ecological impacts of diesel exhaust and the accompanying tax burdens to address these problems. Another hidden cost: the taxes that pay for subsidies to commodity farmers. “When you factor in the true cost,” Bonney says, “food from local sources really isn’t any higher than food from large stores.”

Eating locally is “the only way out,” he says. “The fact is that two-thirds of Indiana farms are too small to be involved in commodity production. As a result, the income on those farms is less than $25,000 a year. That’s gross income. That doesn’t support a family.” But by selling their food locally and directly to consumers, as well as to small stores and restaurants, small farmers have a fighting chance.

That’s why the gathering will emphasize the consumer side of the equation. Bonney, who organized the Midwest Small Farm Conference for the past 12 years, feels the time is right to expand beyond a farmer-to-farmer focus. Connecting local foods enthusiasts with growers is a primary goal.

The event is co-sponsored by Earth Charter Indiana. John Gibson, ECI’s executive director, hopes to attract people who are new to the idea of eating locally. “It’s becoming more apparent,” he says, “that what we eat and how our food is grown and processed is a major, major factor in both the health of the planet and the health of people. So our hope is that people will gather and learn some things and will be willing to make changes where changes are appropriate.”

The conference will feature local Chef Wendell Fowler, entrepreneur Kay Grimm of Basic Roots (which brings food from small farms direct to Indy doorsteps) and others specializing in growing and finding local foods.

A common theme among presenters is creating energy and food independence, even in an urban setting. A panel of alternative energy users will discuss how to “capture sun and wind.” Others will discuss modern homesteading, community farms and raising urban chickens.

Gibson says, “We’ve got a little movement growing. I hope it swells to a tsunami of folks taking pleasure in eating, feeling healthier and knowing they’re contributing to the longevity of the planet.”

What: 2008 Food, Farm, and Energy Gathering

When: Saturday, Feb. 23, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Our Land Pavilion, Indiana State Fairgrounds

Registration: www.sustainableearth.net

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