Thursday, 13 September 2012

New Indiana book tells the story of agriculture and food

By Katie Nickas 
(800) 772-9354 ext. 4 

Indiana writer and photographer David Hoppe and Kristin Hess were just looking for something to eat when they walked Caliente Cuban Cuisine in Fort Wayne last fall. 

Their restaurant host turned out to be a Cuban journalist exiled to the U.S., his wife a passionate Cuban restaurateur and their encounter quite a serendipitous one. 

At the time, Hoppe, a Hoosier writer and journalist, and Hess, a photographer and communications and program officer for Indiana Humanities, were searching for interesting farmers, urban gardeners and members of agriculture and the culinary industry whom they could feature in a book about the state’s food and agricultural industry. 

With Food for Thought: An Indiana Harvest now sealed, published and on bookshelves, the original coordinators are embarking on an interstate tour to promote it. 

An exercise in creative thought and taste, the compilation features colors and interviews from Indiana representatives including Indiana Farm Bureau president Don Villwock, Sonny Beck of Beck’s Superior Hybrids, Elanco president Jeff Simmons, grass-fed pork and poultry producer Greg Gunthorp, Scott Tucker of Maple Leaf Farms, Greenfield pork producer Heather Hill and Lisa Sparks, proprietor of Lisa’s Pie Shop and creator of award-winning pies, along with about 80 other people. 

The book is designed to tell the stories of Indiana food and agriculture through words and pictures. 

“This has been an amazing project that couldn’t have come at a more exciting time for Indiana food and agriculture,” Hess said. “There are more than 80 people we’ve identified as folks who are making this such an exciting and dynamic time.” 

The book takes a positive, warm-hearted look at all that’s positive about the industry. There are no ripostes or political tirades to be found, but there is a chapter entitled “Risk” that explores the highly volatile, highly rewarding world of farming. 

There’s a feature on American Indian Dani Tippman and her traditional recipes, including cattail cuisine, as well as an account of Whiting’s Pierogie king, Mexican immigrant Jesús Alvarez. 

“Is my farm going to make it? How is weather going to affect me? Those are real questions, and this book is not only happy stories,” Hess noted. 

“The stories are a lot about who these people are as people, how they got into farming, whether it’s a family tradition or they’ve switched careers later in life. You see a different side to them than you might see in a typical professional interview. A more human side.” 

Readers will view an Indiana map showing where each farmer or local grower is located in the table of contents. The other chapters are entitled “Place,” “Passion,” “Artisanal,” “Starting Over,” “The Goods,” “Family,” “Back to Roots” and “Future.” 

When Indiana Humanities commissioned the project through its Food for Thought program, designed to celebrate and connect Hoosiers to their agricultural roots, they encouraged participants and readers to think, read and talk about their unique farm heritage, Hess said. 

The organization hosted a series of panel discussions with groups including the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, as well as exhibits, all of which led up to the editing and ultimate structure of the book. 

Sponsorship through Indiana’s Family of Farmers provided tremendous support for the project, as well, Hess noted. 

While the endeavor was quite challenging, Hess said she was pleasantly surprised by the fact that people are proud of their connection to food and agriculture all over Indiana and are eager to share the stories of food in their communities. 

“This is not a guidebook — it’s a storybook about the people behind farming, what they love about it and what they struggle with,” she said. 

“A lot of it was planned, but a lot of it was also serendipitous. Stories like our original Cuban encounter just kept coming up, presenting wonderful scenes about family and community. It’s a marvelous time in the state’s food industry — a food renaissance that this book shares through a variety of voices.” 

“The coolest aspect was that out of everyone we talked to, from large farmers to small, urban farmers providing food to farmers market or experts on global research on drought-resistant crops for Africa, they all agreed that this is the most exciting time they can remember in Indiana food,” Hess said. 

“In this day and age, it is really something to celebrate to have a consensus, and it’s really something to celebrate,” she added. 

Many stories connect to Purdue University, and Purdue Dean of the College of Agriculture Jay Akridge fleshed out the university’s mission as a vehicle to continue to provide great minds in the field of agriculture and education, Hess noted. 

“Jay was great in explaining what he sees in agricultural students now, and what’s demanded of them now in the industry,” she said. “He also reflected on his past. He mentioned his grandfather and what he might think of what is going on right now.” 

Aster Bekele, who lives in a rough neighborhood in Indianapolis, contributed to the book’s voyage into the emerging world of urban gardens, which are helping transform children’s lives and teaching them about how to grow food of their own, Hess said. 

Food for Thought: An Indiana Harvest is a literal cornucopia of Indiana foods, but it also accents the connection between locally raised products and the award-winning chefs who craft them into culinary works of art. Regina Mehallick, a James Beard award-winning chef and owner of R Bistro in downtown Indianapolis, expounds in an essay on how her dream of opening a restaurant came to fruition. 

Hess said that though the authors are very proud of the people featured in the book, they have not even come close to talk to everyone who is involved in wonderful work in agriculture across Indiana. 

“For everyone in there, there could have been a hundred others,” she said. “The families just really welcomed us in. We really, truly experienced Hoosier hospitality at people’s kitchen tables.” 

The book was printed by IBJ Publishing, an Indiana company, and already has sold more than 1,000 copies. It is mainly being promoted online at 

All proceeds from the book will be donated to funding the people of Indiana, Hess said. 

“My hope is that people will look closer into the world surrounding us and realize there are stories everywhere, just waiting to be uncovered and celebrated,” she said.
Original Article Here

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