Fresh (Local) Fare At The Indiana State Fair
The fried-food, grease-sizzling smell of the Indiana State Fair might seem inescapable, but just wait until you step into the Purdue Extension Ag/Hort Building. In this haven of thriving topiary and fresh foodstuffs, your olfactory senses will delight in clean, herby scents punctuated with earthy undertones. You can direct your appreciation to the centerpiece of the Ag/Hort Building, the Indiana Grown Marketplace.
Indiana Grown is a branding initiative headed up by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, providing local farmers, producers, and manufacturers with a label for their products so consumers know that what they’re buying came directly from the Hoosier State.
“We’re just here to help farmers and producers tell their story,” Heather Tallman, program director at Indiana Grown, says, “and to help people make money and keep that money in the state.”
Three years ago, the initiative teamed up with the State Fair to create the Marketplace, a concentrated location where Hoosiers can buy fresh, local goods produced by various members of Indiana Grown. This is the only one-stop shop of the branding initiative you’ll find; if you want to continue purchasing Indiana Grown products, you’ll have to go to specific members’ online or brick-and-mortar stores.
Stepping through the back archway of the 30-foot-square Marketplace, shoppers can wander among several booths and tables displaying the same products found in the recently exited store—but these you can taste at no cost.
Most of these samplers have been with Indiana Grown since its inception in 2015, watching their brand grow and flourish under the careful tutelage of the state program. Take David VanWye, the one-man operation running the gourmet sauce company Amazing Hazel’s—he couldn’t be more grateful for the help the initiative has provided.
“They have helped me learn about events, about marketing, about legal aspects of a food business, many, many different things. Indiana Grown’s been great,” VanWye said at the State Fair. He sells two products: a gourmet chili sauce and premium Bloody Mary Mix. Almost all of his ingredients are fresh off Indiana farms, and being part of Indiana Grown helps consumers recognize that.
“We know who we’re buying from. I’m my only employee, and so when people sample my product and realize they can purchase a product from an individual like myself, they can know they’re getting fresh ingredients,” VanWye said.
Not only are familiar faces a key asset to Indiana Grown’s mission, but familiar places as well. Most people would not expect to find a Lemonoui Greek Salad dressing produced right in Greenwood, but Hartwell’s Premium prides itself on developing high-quality salad dressings close to home.
“It’s local-made, it’s a natural-made product, it’s better than a lot of the synthetics,” Julie Wells from Hartwell’s says. “I think [Indiana Grown] is a great way to support all the local vendors and artistry.”
Members don’t have to exclusively grow food in Indiana to be part of the ISDA program—manufacturers and producers are welcome as well. Liz Laughlin of Limelight Coffee Roasters, for one, stresses that she roasts coffee in Indiana.
“Obviously we don’t grow coffee in Indiana, but it’s roasted and packaged here,” Laughlin says. “The neat thing about Indiana Grown is it promotes growers, producers, and manufactures, so the customer understands that this is a locally manufactured product.”
No matter where her coffee is sourced from, Laughlin emphasizes that it’s Indiana workers manufacturing her product, and Indiana consumers she wants to market to.
“I just had a guy say that he had no idea there was such a thing as an Indiana roaster. I said, ‘Really? Where do you think coffee’s roasted?’ He said, ‘The green mountains.’ And I said, ‘You don’t have to go to Vermont anymore to buy roasted coffee. You can buy it right here.’”
Literally right here. As in, at the Indiana Grown Marketplace.
And if free samples and scents aren’t enough, the initiative also set up the Culinary Stage at the very back of the room, featuring live demonstrations of recipes you can make using products from the Marketplace. So feel free to veg out on the rows of wooden benches set up under the heavenly air-conditioning vents, stomach bloated with free samples and mouth still smoking from Amazing Hazel’s Premium Bloody Mary Mix. Heather Tallman and others present on the Food Network-esque stage once an hour and hand out free recipe cards at the end so you can try your luck at home (with a couple of Indiana Grown products in tow).
Even if you only wandered into the Purdue Extension Ag/Hort Building to escape the sweltering heat and stomach-churning fried scents, you’ll walk out knowing more about fresh, local products that you can buy to support Hoosier businesses and farmers. Hopefully, like Popcorn Café owner Grace Jones, you’ll see the thriving essence of a growing community.
“When I look around at my fellow samplers here,” said Jones, “I just see the heart and soul of how hard we work.”