Local Food Tours and Talks Recap

Thanks to everyone who participated in our Local Food Tours and Talks series this month!  The tours were intended to explore opportunities for different types of local food advocates and enterprises to collaborate on a regional scale.  The tours were just a starting point, but it was great to break the ice by recognizing overlapping efforts and identifying other groups to bring into the conversation.

Our first tour of the  Purple Porch Co-op in South Bend offered a very tactile introduction to their unique system for distributing local food.  We helped fill delivery orders for absent members by taking our shopping lists to different vendors and checking out their products. Local dairy, bagels, and an heirloom tomato CSA were personal highlights.  Afterwards we explored the Langlab Building that hosts the co-op (as well as a latin dance night that evening) and listened to a presentation by friends of the co-op on a visit to Growing Power in Milwaukee, a premier urban agriculture center.

The second tour took us to one of PPC’s vendors,  Rise Up Farms  in Elkhart, starting with a tour of the evolving transformation of the site’s barn into the headquarters for sponsor Hope Builders.  We learned about some of the successes and challenges faced by the young Community Supported Agriculture project while we strolled through their fields and checked out the bee hives.  We then headed into Elkhart with Nicole Bauman to see several of the community gardens run by their sister organization,  Elkhart Local Food Alliance. The highlight for many was probably the Garden of Eden (Street), where the hosts welcomed us with zucchini-corn cakes fresh off the griddle, mint tea, and several side dishes showcasing some of the dozen-plus heirloom squash and pumpkins being raised on the site.

The series wrapped up at the Goshen Farmer’s Market, where Paul Steury introduced us to some of the market’s unique history and programs, including a market-wide basket CSA.  We also heard from vendors who shared about the challenges of selling local food and connecting with consumers, from marketing to dealing with “waste”.  Dinner at Rachel’s Bread followed, with casual conversation reflecting on the different food initiatives unfolding across the region and the niches yet to be filled.  Some of the ideas put forth included bulk direct farm-to-consumer produce sales, canning CSA’s, and a directory of regional food organizations modeled after Michigan’s Local Food Systems Guide.

As the harvest season winds down, we’ll keep looking for ways to nurture our local foodshed in anticipation of next year’s growing season.  Stay tuned!

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