Visitors at Dig IN, A Taste of Indiana enjoy food grown on Indiana farms and cooked by expert chefs. Dozens of Indiana chefs, brewers, vintners and food artisans gathered at White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis to celebrate all that Indiana agriculture has to offer.
Visitors at Dig IN, A Taste of Indiana enjoy food grown on Indiana farms and cooked by expert chefs. Dozens of Indiana chefs, brewers, vintners and food artisans gathered at White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis to celebrate all that Indiana agriculture has to offer.
INDIANAPOLIS — A celebration of farm-to-fork food, wines and brews was held at the Dig IN, A Taste of Indiana festival in Indianapolis.

Thirty-seven chefs, 17 breweries, nine wineries and hundreds of volunteers came together to make the culinary experience a success.

“We required that chefs select different kinds of ingredients this year,” said Rob Gaston, executive director of Dig IN. “In the past, we left it open and would allow chefs to say ‘I want to use lamb or duck.’ What we did this year is provide a list of things that were available. They got to pick from that list.”

Gaston said that this provided more variety for guests to enjoy. From Indiana-grown bison to shrimp and perch from local aquaculture farms, a wide range of foods was offered.

“We provided Indiana-grown ingredients for the chefs, which is different from most festivals where they invite the chefs to participate and restaurants are providing the food,” Gaston said. “It helps make these dishes Indiana based. We can’t get bananas grown in Indiana, but we can get corn, tomatoes, basil and lettuces.”

The festival highlighted each farm so that visitors could see where the food they were sampling originated.

Funding for the Indiana foods offered at Dig IN is largely in part from Indiana’s Family of Farmers and other agricultural organizations that want to help promote and support Hoosier agriculture.

The turnout for the event was smaller than in the past because Dig IN leaders reduced the number of tickets available.

“We had a crowd that felt a lot less cramped,” Gaston said. “The space felt open. The lines for food were shorter. There was smaller attendance and a better feel for the event.”

The first Dig IN was held in 2010. The concept for the event was inspired by conversations with farmers and producers.

Dig IN board member and chair Annie Schmelzer traveled around Indiana and spoke with many small-scale farmers. Through her journeys, she saw the need to connect people together and promote agriculture on a larger scale.

“Through different conversations, what happened is it got people fired up to promote local foods,” Gaston said. “Dig IN came out of conversations like these.”

The director said that, according to a 2012 report, Indiana is importing 90 percent of its food at a cost of $14.5 billion.

If every Indiana resident spent $3 to $4 more a week on Indiana-grown products, there could be an extra $1 billion to $2 billion growth in the state’s economy in a year, he said.

“Having lived here since 1992, there’s so much difference in the types of restaurants, the types of breweries there are,” he said.

“Even over the past five years, there’s been an incredible increase in the number of independent restaurants. More and more market themselves on the fact that they use foods that are local — it’s increasing more and more.”

The turnout for Indiana wineries and breweries at the festival was very strong, according to Jeanette Merritt, marketing chair of the Indiana Wine Grape Council.

“It was great to see how many people support the local foods, wines and beers from Indiana,” she said. “Indiana wines are local. Over 650 acres of grapes are grown in Indiana.

“When we do have to source grapes from out of state, it is still a product that is crafted in the Hoosier state. Our 70 wineries are proud to be part of the local food movement and appreciate chefs, both at home and in restaurants, who use our wines with their meals.”

Gaston emphasized that Dig IN is planning more events that will be held throughout the year.

“In the past, we have just had a one-day event,” he said. “Now that we’re wrapped up with Dig IN, the next thing is looking at things that can happen on a somewhat monthly basis. We’ll do it on a smaller scale or at different areas around the state.”

Potential events include food tastings, workshops, farm tours and dinners.