At Deer Run Park, 46 community garden plots are waiting to be sowed whenever the weather’s ready.

They’re all spoken for — mostly by locals who live in the woods, on a small lot or in an apartment.

“A lot of people don’t have the option to garden,” said Andy Rudd, Brown County Parks and Recreation program specialist. “They’re interested in gardening; they just simply don’t have a place to do it.”

The garden started around 2012 and became so popular that parks and rec applied for a grant to expand it by 10 plots two years ago.

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“It filled up very fast,” Rudd said.

“Since I’ve been here, it seems like most people renew.”

Parks and recreation board President Jim Hahn is one of them.

“It’s more fun to get things out of your own garden,” he said. “They taste better than buying them at a grocery store.”

From tomatoes to zucchini to green beans, the community garden is home to an assortment of fresh produce.

There’s also a picnic table just outside the fence where gardeners put any of their surplus that’s up for grabs, Hahn said.

Getting engaged

Parks and rec isn’t the only local government entity getting involved in local food.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission member Jim Schultz also is exploring it as part of Brown County’s “economic picture.”

He said producers and consumers in the county could make money go in a circle here.

“If you assign $10 per person per day to feed everyone in Brown County, no tourists, just everybody in Brown County … it’s just short of $55 million. What if you got 5 percent of that? What if you got 10 percent?” he said. “It’s an ideal funding mechanism.”

Integrating local foods into local restaurants is one way to do that — “farm to table, so the farmers markets will wind up just being for the locals,” Schultz said. But it would be up to local farmers to start those relationships, he said.

Schultz attended the Indiana Local Food Summit last fall in Indianapolis. The keynote speaker was Rich Pirog, the director of the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University. “He opened the session in the morning with, ‘Do you want to eat fresh and local, or do you want to eat distant and stale?’” Schultz said.

“The purpose of this food summit was that Indiana has not engaged yet. They have no formal network, they have no formal outline of food alliance and he (Pirog) was there suggesting how to get that going and trying to create the interested parties.”

SEED Brown County Executive Director Torrie Birkemeier is working to create an alliance here in Brown County.

The nonprofit organization hosts seed and plant swaps, workshops and seminars to create a coordinated way for people to share their seeds and knowledge with other gardeners.

“This is what SEED’s role is, to just help start conversations on how we cycle nutrients and resources through our community again and again. It already exists; we just have to tap into it,” she said.

“We called it SEED because we’re seeding programs, we’re seeding ideas.”

‘We all eat’

Birkemeier said local foods fit in with Brown County’s art and culture scene, and with agritourism as well.

“Local foods comes into play when building a local economy because it takes producers and consumers, so many different elements of it. It just fits into so many initiatives, we can make it fit into any box, because we all eat,” Birkemeier said.

Schultz said having local, clean food available here, along with restaurants serving farm-to-table, also fits into the wellness tourism concept Brown County leaders have explored. Ideally, he’d like to see an active group of producers not only growing food for this community but also educating people about how switching to eating local, “clean” food — farmed without chemicals — can result in a healthier lifestyle.

“You can have these super high-quality meals,” Schultz said. “You know where the food came from and you know it’s not GMO (genetically modified).

“You are what you eat. Garbage in, garbage out. It’s the same thing.”

Last year, the Brown County Inn started growing produce, turning the former tennis courts into garden space. That food was used in some of their meals last year, said Courtney Gosser, one of the hotel’s four owners.

She said this year, the inn is mostly going to focus on growing food that can be used on the salad bar and in special dishes.

“We’ll probably grow tomatoes, zucchini and stuff like that we can serve as specials. We’re going to grow a lot of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas … stuff that if we don’t figure out how to incorporate it into a special, we can ahead and just throw it on the salad bar, so we don’t waste it.”

Gosser said she and her partners believe that fewer preservatives leads to better food. The ketchup and bread they serve are preservative-free. Meat used in the restaurant comes from Indiana farms.

“We’re just trying to incorporate less additives to our food,” she said.

“We’re definitely not doing that exclusively — as of right now, it’s not economical — but for the things that really matter, like meat and produce, if we can do it, we are trying,” she said.

“We’re a pretty young company, so it’s our goal to move forward in that direction.”

On the Web

Learn more about SEED Brown County on Facebook by searching “SEED Brown County – Feed Brown County.”

SEED Executive Director Torrie Birkemeier said the group has more than 200 members and she expects it to grow and become a place to expand resources for the local food initiative.

Pull Quote

“A food culture is not something that gets sold to people. It arises out of a place, a soil, a climate, a history, a temperament, a collective sense of belonging.”

— Barbara Kingsolver, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.