Even before opening the barn door, the mooing cows knew that breakfast was on its way.

Jeff and Amanda Tennell made the rounds to their herd of cattle, pouring feed in their troughs and checking to ensure they seem healthy. From there, it’s time to monitor the chickens, filling their water, giving them food and removing any eggs that the hens have laid.

With a family heritage in agriculture dating back to the 1930s, the Tennells are intimately familiar with how our food gets from the farm to the table. Too few people realize that these days, Amanda Tennell said.

“Any awareness is key for local food. People don’t know that this is out there,” she said.

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Helping people understand the importance of area growers and producers, and the impact that buying food grown here in the community can have, is the goal of the upcoming Local Food Summit. The event will be hosted by Purdue Extension Johnson County and a dozen other partners Oct. 24 at Central Nine Career Center.

Those involved hope that the event will serve as a starting point for the county to build a stronger food system.

“We’re all food consumers. We make decisions every day about our food, and we want make sure we have a vibrant economy that has healthy food access, and those linkages between farmers and consumers,” said Erin Slevin, community wellness coordinator for Purdue Extension Johnson County.

Efforts to implement more local food into the community have been increasing in recent years.

Concepts such as farm-to-school, which connects children with the food growers and producers throughout the county, have taken root in the county. Schools take field trips to area farms to show kids where they can learn how milk, hamburgers and apples make their way to the cafeteria.

Food service directors have started serving area-grown ingredients for lunch, such as produce from the Apple Works in Trafalgar and Nature’s Gift Organics in Morgantown.

“It’s great making that connection to kids that some of your food is grown right here. You can know your farmer and know how it got from the farm to your lunch tray,” Slevin said.

At Central Nine’s To the Nines eatery, a working restaurant run by its culinary arts students, local food is woven into their curriculum, said Tiffany Swopes, chef and advanced culinary arts instructor.

They have to plan a menu and use local, in-season ingredients, then prepare that for To the Nines customers.

“They think that everything is available to them at all times. They have this misconception that, if they want to use strawberries, they can go now to get them and they’ll be just as good as they would be in May. And that’s not true,” Swopes said. “They’re realizing that if they want good, fresh product, they have to use local.”

The growing popularity of farmers markets also is helping improve the connection people have to their food.

During the summers, the Tennells sell eggs, ground chuck, brisket, New York strip and other cuts of beef from their own cows through their business, Sugar Creek Farm Market. They take part in Franklin’s farmers market as well as other community events.

The Tennell family had been selling quarter- or half-sides of freezer beef for many years but only recently started having smaller cuts processed to sell.

“A lot of people aren’t going to eat a quarter of beef before it goes bad, or there are certain pieces in it that they wouldn’t want. So I asked, ‘What if we sell by the piece?'” Amanda Tennell said.

The response has been encouraging. People show up every week at farmers markets and other events to get their supply of beef, and Amanda Tennell takes orders for people to pick up on a regular basis.

“I find that my customers want to know where their food is raised. People want to get back to knowing where their food comes from. That’s very important to them,” she said.

That mindset is part of what the food summit is about. Purdue Extension hosts a local food program statewide, and has hosted similar summits throughout the state.

As Slevin has worked throughout Johnson County in her role as community wellness coordinator, she kept encountering questions about area-grown food and nutrition.

The time seemed right to bring people together to have a conversation and connect people who can make our food system more sustainable, she said.

Together with Purdue Extension Johnson County director Sarah Hanson, Slevin started planning the summit. Partners quickly signed on to help, including Indiana Grown, the Nature’s Gift Organics, Franciscan Health and Central Nine Career Center.

“When they approached me with the idea, I quickly realized the sustainability portion of it completely lined up with my curriculum through the state. We have a sustainability element looking at farm-to-table using local foods, so it fit well,” Swopes said.

The summit starts with a keynote presentation from Indiana Grown, a statewide initiative helping local growers and farmers market their products.

A panel discussing the different facets of area food systems will include representatives from Franklin Community School Corp., Nature’s Gift Organics, Piazza Produce and Hops & Fire Craft Tap House. Dr. Yousef Mohammadi, a physician for Community Health Network, will also offer perspective on the health impact of local food.

Part of the conversation will revolve around food insecurity, in which people don’t have adequate and access to healthy food. Attendees are asked to bring a non-perishable food item that will be donated to the Interchurch Food Pantry, Slevin said.

With the summit stretching throughout the day, lunch will be prepared and served by Central Nine culinary students. The meal will incorporate apples from the Apple Works, eggs from Sugar Creek Farm Market and beef from Mallow Run Premium Beef.

Homemade gluten-free desserts from Suzy’s Teahouse & Bakery and locally roasted coffee from Brickhouse Coffee will also be included.

“We’re trying to include as much local as possible, to show that it really is possible to do,” Slevin said.

Small-group discussions are planned so people can learn more about areas of interest, such as farm-to-school, growers and producers, and health and wellness.

“The main goals for this first summit is a great understanding of what our local food system in Johnson County looks like,” Slevin said. “We want to make connections with people in all aspects of it, and help people be more knowledgeable consumers of food, that we have a choice where to spend our food dollars and start asking for more local products in stores.”

“It’s helping the farmers, helping their bottom line. The economics for them makes sense. They can make more money generally by selling vegetables versus selling corn and soybeans, so maybe some acreage in Johnson County can be converted to vegetables or fruits. You can even do high-tunnels or greenhouses to grow things more months of the year.”

If you go

Johnson County Local Food Summit

When: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday; registration begins at 8

Where: Central Nine Career Center, 1999 U.S. 31 South, Greenwood

Cost: $10; includes a locally sourced lunch

Register by following this link https://www.eventbrite.com/e/johnson-county-local-food-summit-tickets-35607745726?ref=estw

Information: Call Sarah Hanson or Erin Slevin at 317-736-3724.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.