Locally-produced food hub the goal of Culver and regional group

The former Monterey Elementary School building is being considered as a possible site for a local food hub.
Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor

A group of people interested in more locally-produced food being employed in local entities met recently in hopes that a "food summit" can take place in the Culver-Marshall County area in the near future. This according to Chris Kline, who heads Culver Academies' Sustainability initiatives, and who says the idea isn't really a new one, even if it's widened in scope from local predecessors like community gardens and the Culver Farmers' Market.

Culver Academies' interest in the matter began with a smaller food panel last June, and particularly with the input of Larry Surrisi, himself a former successful chef in Culver and now head chef at the school's Dining Hall. Reliable delivery of locally-produced food to the Academies was a concern, says Kline, who adds that within a 30 mile radius around Culver are situated major producers of eggs, milk, meat, and more. Much of that produce, Kline points out, goes into national, instead of local, markets. It's a similar story in many -- if not most -- communities in the United States, in an age when food purchased and consumed in one area may have been shipped hundreds, or even thousands of miles, even though local farmers are growing the same product right outside consumers' doors (and in some cases struggling economically in a current market criticized in many national circles for seeming to have room only for a "bigger is better" paradigm of food production).

Academies faculty members Chad and Xenia Gard, who also operate the Culver-based Hole in the Woods Farm (a mainstay at the Culver Farmer's Market), suggested a local food hub, Kline says, and the former Monterey Elementary building was suggested as a "box location" for the food hub -- a base location for food storage and distribution to larger local entities such as schools and restaurants. The possibility of sale of the Monterey property has been discussed with Culver Community Schools superintendent Dr. Vicki McGuire and Director of Operations Chuck Kitchell.

"One of the things Larry Surrisi likes about it is as a possible space for cooking classes," says Kline. "You could use the kitchen down there."

It's ideally situated, geographically, as a central food hub for the four-county area which feeds into Culver Community Schools (that is, Marshall, Fulton, Pulaski, and Starke), an area whose size would be needed to make the food hub model work, according to Kline.

Another addition to the discussion was Sister Sue Rogers from nearby Earthworks Farms, in conjunction with Ancilla College, which is launching a two-year Agriculture degree program. Earthworks, notes Kline, has been successful in their retail outlet and farm, within the context of locally produced food. Jodie Ellis of the main Purdue University campus was brought into the discussion as well, bringing a background of facilitating food summits at several Indiana locations, with hopes of the aforementioned summit taking place here, under her guidance, in the coming months.
Ellis provided a wealth of information regarding what it might take to make the initiative go, including how to organize in the best manner to receive funding from foundations and the like, besides a great deal of data on current food production in this area (see accompanying article on this page).

"It's kind of exciting to think about," says Kline. "People are starting to ask where their apple comes from. And we can't hide from the economic part of it. This food hub isn't going to supply dollars 12 months out of the year. But if peppers can come from a farm 30 miles away, and if the price is reasonable, restaurants and schools would buy it."

A more detailed version of this story appears in the Sept. 24 edition of The Culver Citizen. To subscribe to the print or digital edition of the paper, click here: http://thepilotnews.com/subscriptions