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Why Taste of Indiana Matters

By Libby Simmons
With less than two weeks until Dig IN’s annual Taste of Indiana, I spoke with Dig IN co-founder Annie Schmelzer and Napolese Chef Tyler Herald to discuss what Taste of Indiana means to them. It is much more than a one-day food festival: Dig IN’s mission is to educate Hoosiers about eating and buying locally sourced food year-round.

“When we first started (seven years ago), there was a lot of interest in getting farmers to ‘grow more local,’ but there was also a big challenge in getting consumers to realize what they could get in season, where they could get it, how they could prepare it, and why buying local matters,” says Annie.

Increasing Hoosiers’ awareness of agriculture in Indiana, highlighting local chefs using local ingredients, and helping to create connections among farmers, chefs, and consumers are only a few of the ways Dig IN has contributed to the food sustainability conversation throughout the year. We’ve also assisted with educational events, such as the Indiana Horticulture Congress and Indiana Humanities’ Food for Thought program.

While the one-day Taste of Indiana festival is among the largest local food-tasting events in the country, Dig IN works the other 364 days a year not only to make sure the event happens, but also to get people thinking about their individual impact.

“Dig IN has worked with 96 different farms from across the state, leveraged an incredible partnership with Piazza Produce to get these goods transported to the participating restaurants, and helped create relationships both for these farms and Piazza with the multitude of restaurants who have participated in Taste of Indiana from around the state,” adds Annie.

According to 2012 Indiana Census data, farms with gross cash farm income below $75,000 accounted for 85 percent of local food farms, yet those same farms accounted for only 13 percent of local food sales. Those with gross cash farm income above $350,000 accounted for 5 percent of local food farms and 67 percent of sales. As a result, it is vital to the state and to its farmers to support local producers. Dig IN is working to increase direct-to-consumer sales to keep Indiana farms in business.

Taste of Indiana is our way of showcasing the talented farmers, chefs, and producers that we have right here in Indiana, while also giving back. As Tyler describes it, “No other food event brings chefs and farmers together quite like Taste. As someone who sources from around 20 farmers on the regular, I feel that this event is crucial. It’s a great way for the public to taste the chefs’ dishes and also forces the chefs to use the local ingredients. Because of the size of the event, many farmers are very positively impacted. The amount of product that is used that day alone goes a long way in helping farmers.”

We can’t wait to see you on August 28, and we cannot thank you enough for your continued support.