Locally grown food gets a boost
Japanese Wagyu cattle roam the grounds at the Joseph Decuis farm, about 30 miles northwest of Bluffton, near Columbia City.
Meat from the animals — prized for its healthy qualities and rich taste — goes from “farm to fork” in entrees prepared by chefs at an upscale Roanoke restaurant operated by the farm’s owners.
It’s a model business, agriculture and government leaders say could benefit northeast Indiana and Wells County.
“I think our communities are going to get a shot in the arm with locally grown food,” said Pete Eshelman, who owns the farm. “This is not some kind of fad. I think it’s a huge opportunity.”
More than 60 people gathered at the farm Wednesday morning for a breakfast dedicated to discussing the economic future of the food industry in the northeast portion of the state. Specifically, those who attended kicked off an effort to study food resources in an 11-county region that includes Wells County and how to use them to grow business in the area.
The effort is a first in Indiana, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday announced Wells County was awarded $43,000 in federal funding to develop a “regional foodshed development strategy.” That money, coupled with $19,500 from the Regional Opportunities Council and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, will fund a year-long assessment that will study what is already in place and what could work in the area in the future.
Farm-to-table operations like the farm will likely be discussed, and a proposed $5 million Food Innovation Center to attract entrepreneurs to grow businesses also will be considered.
“Basically, it’s looking at everything to do with food in northeast Indiana,” said Tim Ehlerding, Wells County economic development director. “It’s from the seed to it being eaten up.”
Chris Manheim of Elgin, Ill.-based Manheim Solutions — the consultant that will lead the study — said the work will be done in phases. Phase One includes identifying resources, and Phase Two will include public meetings for area residents to share opinions and suggestions.
The effort will conclude with an “action plan”.
“This is really an economic development strategy,” Manheim said. “The target is agriculture and food processing.
“(The study) is giving you the lay of the land. It can’t predict what’s going to happen, but it’s giving you the information to try to predict what’s going to happen.”
Anthony Kirkland, northern district director for USDA’s business program, said the federal agency would oversee funding for the study.
“It seems like food always brings us together,” Kirkland said. “We support this effort.”
State Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, also lent his support to the effort Wednesday.
“It’s to promote the small industry,” he said, citing area farms. “I think now’s a good time to do this.