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Organizers cancel Taste of Indiana summer food festival

June 1, 2017

Dig IN, an Indianapolis-based not-for-profit that promotes consumption of locally sourced food, has decided not to put on its annual Taste of Indiana food festival this August, ending a seven-year run for the event.

Dig IN officials instead plan to focus on other efforts to support local food communities after receiving a $25,000 grant from the Central Indiana Community Foundation, according to Dig IN cofounder Annie Schmelzer.

Wednesday's announcement said the Dig IN board plans to use grant funding to partner with not-for-profit consulting firm Hedges and Associates to develop of new strategic plan for the organization.

“Dig IN was started as a non-profit to improve economic development of local food and really try to promote conversations and connections through food,” Schmelzer said. “While the event was what we became known for, we also really wanted to continue other avenues of work to that mission.”

The first Taste of Indiana festival took place at White River State Park in 2010 and sought to connect consumers, local restaurants and Indiana food producers to encourage “farm to fork” eating practices. The event took place in Military Park in 2016.

The event has been well-attended through its eight-year run, routinely selling out of tickets priced from $45 for general admission to $100 for VIP tickets. Schmelzer said the festival’s general admission ticket was a huge value, granting access to more than seven pounds of food via restaurants’ prepared samples.

Taste of Indiana averaged 4,000 attendees each year, leading to a misconception that Dig IN was profiting from the event, Dig IN marketing chair Libby Simmons said.

“Most people assume we did so well because we sold tickets," Simmons said. "But really it barely covered the cost to put the event on."

Dig IN purchased all ingredients needed for its participating restaurants’ to attend Taste of Indiana. Event organizers collaborated with local farms to provide the produce needed for the event. Schmelzer said she usually recommended restaurants prepare about 3,000 samples for each festival.

Dig IN also footed the bill for other supplies restaurants needed such as cutlery, tents and preparation space.

“We didn’t pay the restaurants to be there," Schmelzer said. "But we tried to make the infrastructure as user-friendly and as inexpensive as possible."

The Dig IN board considered increasing ticket prices to better fund the event, but Schmelzer said the board ultimately decided against increases, opting not to play into a perceived stigma that locally sourced food is elitist.

“It was something we wrestled with a lot as a board because there certainly was a willingness to pay for that,” Schmelzer said. “But I didn’t want to overly constrain our audience.”

The 2016 Taste of Indiana festival featured more than three dozen Indiana-based restaurants. However, the festival saw a decline in participation for the first time due to restaurants’ difficulty in staffing the event.

“Staffing has become a challenge, kind of a competition for talent locally because the number of restaurants has gone up so much,” Schmelzer said. “They just didn’t have the personnel to be able to do this plus the regular restaurant service.”

Dig IN partnered with organizations such as the Indiana Wine Grape Council, the Brewers of Indiana Guild and Piazza Produce to make Taste of Indiana possible.

Local eateries like Patachou and Napolese participated in the event, as well as out-of-towners such as Just Rennie’s Cookie Co. from Evansville.

“There are a lot of other food festivals out there, but most of them are more Indy-centric,” Simmons said. “We had people from all over the state. That’s what really set us apart.”

Schmelzer said recipes from past festival samplings are available on Dig IN’s website. She also emphasized that although Taste of Indiana won't take place this year, the Dig IN organization is open to future opportunities, including the eventual return of the festival.

“We’re really looking to put on some smaller events and work with partners who are already engaged in this space as well,” Schmelzer said. “We want to help provide avenues for people to continue to enjoy some of what we did at the Taste, but maybe in a different format.”

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