Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Columbus Local Foods Panel

Excellent panel on local foods down at the Columbus Metro Club today, featuring Michael Jones of Local Matters, Catherine Girves of the University District, and Liz Lessners, one of our great home-grown restaurateurs.  Moderated by Amalia Liebestreu, the Sustainable Agriculture coordinator for Governor Strickland's Food Policy Council (good news: you can now get an Ohio Sustainable Agriculture license plate).

The panel covered the gamut of local food issues, from the statewide foodsystem (Amalia's office has undertaken what it apparently the first systematic study of a state's food systems in the nation) to community gardening (Cathy Girves has a network of 12 community gardens throughout the University District, ranging from median plantings to farmer's-market plots).  Among the key points: the importance of human capital, i.e. passionate and committed advocates, with enough savvy and connections to get things done.  Cathy emphasized the importance of volunteers linking up with established non-profits, to avoid city worries about the vanishing volunteer syndrome. 

Michael talked about the importance of building demand within the city, so that farmers can be sure there's a market, especially for smaller-scale specialty crops.  Restaurants fit in here, but also special requests at the supermarket, which is increasingly attuned to local produce as cheaper and fresher (fewer shipping costs).  He also described the VeggieVan project--the green-foodie answer to the ice-cream truck. 

There was a clear sense that there's a lot going on in Columbus, and someone mentioned how impressed the editor of Organic Gardening magazine was by all the initiatives.  By comparison, there's this account of San Francisco.  I think we come out pretty well, although there's miles to go before we're fully localized.