INDIANAPOLIS - The statewide branding initiative for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture has developed a tool to bring the “farm-to-fork” movement to what ag leaders call the state’s biggest restaurant: school cafeterias. Indiana Grown says the new resource guide connects school corporations with Hoosier farmers and producers. Indiana Grown says the goal is to not only provide locally-sourced food to students, but also create an economic development benefit for Hoosier producers.

Indiana Grown Program Director Heather Tallman discussed the effort with Business of Health Reporter Kylie Veleta.

"I think a lot of farmers really want to sell to schools but they don't really know where to begin and a lot of these schools, they do want to buy from some of the people in their area," said Tallman. "Those students may go to the schools who live on some of these farms, but (the schools) don't have time to track down farmers. So we're hoping to bridge that gap and by doing that, grow the economic footprint of those farmers."

Tallman says the resource guide is available both as a booklet and online. It has been given to every school corporation on the state and Indiana Grown says farmers and producers who were not included in the physical guide initially can still be included in the online version.

Tallman says the guide helps remove barriers between growers and buyers.

"The people who have expressed interest in being in this guide already know what food safety preparation they have to go through and so they're doing that, they're in the process, or they've completed it. So buyers know that when they go through (the guide) and find something in their county that it is someone that they can buy from. It is harder for them to buy locally, but the federal government and USDA have really given tools to these buyers to make it a little bit easier and make the information a little bit more clear."

As the guide gets up and running, Tallman says it has the potential to go beyond schools.

"Our grant partner is the Indiana State Department of Health and so we see this as, kind of, food is medicine. So we see farm-to-school, farm-to-institution, farm-to-hospital. The ripple effects from just this guide alone will (be) far-reaching."

Tallman adds Indiana Grown will track a certain number of schools who use the guide in 2020 to see if it changes their purchasing habits.