Bill would bolster Hoosier homegrown products

Restaurateurs and farmers are calling for Hoosiers to “shake the hand of the hand that feeds them” by helping them promote their products.

House Bill 1039 – approved unanimously Thursday by the Agriculture and Rural Development committee – is meant to bolster a program that brands Indiana-grown produce and meat.

The initiative, called Indiana Grown, was developed in 2012 and assigned to the economic development team at the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. The program has fewer than 20 applicants so far, but House Bill 1039 is designed to take the idea and help it grow into a possible billion-dollar market.

Hoosiers spent roughly $14.5 billion a year on food and 90 percent of that money goes to sources out of state, the bill’s supporters said. They said that creates a window of opportunity.

Farmer and restaurateur Pete Eshelman said the bill would allow Indiana’s economy to grow and give the state a new reputation.

“If we keep these dollars in the state — 10, 15, 20 percent — we become a state that feeds ourselves,” Eshelman said. “What an opportunity to become the state that feeds itself and creates this economy.”

The bill also creates a fund that would provide seed money to get the program on its feet. It also provides money for marketing, promotions and tourism for Indiana-grown agriculture. The bill’s author, Rep. Matthew Lehman, R-Berne, recommended that the funds be pulled from tobacco revenue. But those funds are committed elsewhere and Lehman suggested applying for grants for the program.

Jill Pritchard from the agriculture department, said food purchased locally is better.

“It isn’t unusual for food to travel 1,500 miles before hitting the plate,” Pritchard said. “It results in a loss in quality, nutritional value and taste.”

A number of states – including Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and South Carolina – have active home-grown initiatives. Studies on the South Carolina program found that there was a $5 to $6 return per dollar invested in the system, supporters said.

South Carolina officials have also created an app that shows users which restaurants use at least 30 percent local ingredients in their menu.

Lehman said Indiana can take similar steps to help push the initiative forward.

“We can do print ads, we can do high school basketball tournaments, we can do promotions and apps on iPhones and we can have T-shirts,” Lehman said. “There’s an excitement out there I think to really begin to promote this Indiana Grown. I think it all comes down to marketing.”

All the testimony Thursday was in favor of the bill.

“I think what we’re really talking about here is building a one-, two-, three-billion dollar new culinary economy in this state,” Eshelman said. “That opportunity is there.”

The bill passed 12-0 and will move to the full House for consideration.

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