The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources met on Tuesday to discuss a growing number of issues related to the way Indiana’s farming, food safety, and dining cultures work together.
The emergence of what is commonly referred to as “Farm-to-Table” dining has created a number of new challenges for the state’s food industry, all of which the committee noted as a good problem to have. Tuesday’s meeting initiated an interim-long discussion as to how to encourage this new movement while remaining vigilant and maintaining high food-safety standards.
Representatives from the Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Egg Board, Indiana Department of Agriculture, Indiana Department of Health, and Purdue Extension Office gave testimony on the topic, along with a number of local farmers and food providers.
The committee also addressed concerns with statewide food accessibility. Presenting on the need for healthy food access and financing, State Representative Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) advocated for legislation to reduce the rising number of food deserts in the state.
Food deserts are known as communities that experience both low income and low access to nutritious, fresh foods. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Low Income Communities are those with a poverty rate of 20% or greater, or a median family income of 80% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or less. A family of four making 80% of FPL has an annual income of just under $20,000.
Similarly, Low Access Communities are defined by the USDA as a community whose census tract has a population where at least 33% of people live more than one mile from a supermarket (or ten miles in a rural area).
Tying into the local foods portion of the meeting, Rep. Shackleford highlighted her proposed legislation to provide grants to projects that provide nutritious foods in under-served areas of the community. Eligible projects would include grocery stores, food cooperatives, and grocery delivery services. Currently, these programs are prevalent, but rarely deliver to areas of the community that do not have grocery stores and fresh markets available in their neighborhoods.
The committee will meet again in September to further consider proposals like Rep. Shakleford’s before making final recommendations later this fall.