The person who plans lunch menus for Columbus area schools shared a hope this week to develop business relationships with more local growers.

Nancy Millspaugh, director of food service with the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., told 50 participants at Wednesday’s Columbus Area Food Summit that she would like to expand the number of growers who supply fresh food served in local schools.

Wednesday’s food summit was planned to help local farmers, buyers and sellers connect with one another and help each other achieve their goals, said Kris Medic, agriculture, natural resources and community development educator with Purdue Extension of Bartholomew County.

Millspaugh said the BCSC has supported the use of local foods since 2008, when the entire country was experiencing a financial downtown. BCSC wanted to support local growers while providing fresh food to children, she said.

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Looking ahead, she is seeking to grow the number of local food producers beyond two the Columbus-based district works with and used the event as a networking opportunity to meet other growers.

Millspaugh said BCSC generally serves fresh produce from August to October, aligning with Indiana’s growing season. However, she said the district recently received a grant that will allow it to purchase a shock freezer, which can store and preserve produce and other items further into the school year.

Liz Brownlee, who owns Nightfall Farm with her husband Nate in Crothersville, said it was important for her to attend the event and help identify what can be done collectively to get more local food into buyers’ hands.

“I’m personally very encouraged by what’s happening here in Bartholomew County that I didn’t even know about before I even came today,” Brownlee said.

The Brownlees raise animals and sell pork, chicken, eggs, lamb and turkeys.

Brownlee said she has started a local group, the Hoosier Young Farmer Coalition, for beginning farmers who have sustainable farming practices.

“There’s a lot of us who want to see the local food economy grow,” she said. “Our farm is built on a foundation of people caring about food and we only succeed if the community succeeds.”

And if enough people in the community make it a priority to eat food that’s nearby, “we all win,” she said.

Agriculture by the numbers

57,500: Number of Indiana farms in Indiana

14.7 million: Farm acreage in Indiana

256: Average size farm in Indiana, in acres

52,000: Sheep/lamb inventory in Indiana

210,000: Beef cows in Indiana

185,000: Milk cows in Indiana

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com