Photo Caption: Rich Tomsu sells his organic produce at a recent Athens Farmers Market.
The 30 Mile Meal Project is a collaboration of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) and more than 130 local food partners. This initiative pushes the envelope on the growing 100 Mile Meal movement with its own "super-local" effort to assist visitors and residents in finding (within a 30-mile radius of Athens) local foods and places to savor the flavors and food experiences of the region, according to the Visitors Bureau website (www.athensohio.com/30mile/)
The mission is to increase, through collaboration and cross promotion, the visibility and sustainability of local foods, farmers, producers, markets, restaurants, bars and food events.
"Southeast Ohio's local foods community is a thriving, interconnected and collaborative partnership creating and promoting earning, learning and celebratory opportunities for the people, places, events and organization in our region," the project's vision statement says.
This was backed up in a recent glowing travel feature in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which crowed about Athens' local food scene. Freelance writer Wendy Pramik wrote, "we came to realize, while spending a couple of days in this Appalachian enclave, that one of Ohio's poorest counties is a blossoming destination for food lovers and a glimmer of hope for sustainable living."
The article also mentioned Audubon magazine's inclusion of the Athens Farmers Market as among the nation's best open-air markets several years ago.
The local 30 Mile Meal project has a number of guiding principles, including fostering collaboration, offering inclusion to all businesses that meet the project's criteria, and supporting the expansion of agri- and culinary tourism in Athens County.
The 30 Mile Meal project has a number of partners, including the Athens Farmers Market, Avalanche Pizza, Casa Nueva, Community Food Initiatives, Integration Acres, Ohio Food Shed, Rural Action Sustainable, Shagbark Seed & Mill Company, the Village Bakery & Della Zona, among many others.
Leslie Schaller, director of programming for ACEnet, said Tuesday that her organization focuses on producers and processors to create value-added products as well as helping with branding and marketing.
ACEnet annually assists more than 1,000 Ohio food and farm entrepreneurs through business incubation, training, and access to direct and wholesale markets.
The program saw a 40 percent growth in buyers, sellers and gross receipts in 2010, she said.
"We try to get people to think about the food supply chain," Schaller said. "We talk about it as a food value chain. At the start end (are) food producers growing food, and at the other end (is) the consumers, or the customers, eating local food."
From production to consumption, Schaller explained, the goal is to create a more localized and fairer food system, so everybody has access to local fresh produce that supports local ownership.
"What we try to do is tell stories all along the supply chain and kind of animate what's happening in this area," she said. "So you think about all of the farmers on the production end, and then you think about a facility like ACEnet's food ventures center."
According to the 30 Mile Meal website blog, the food ventures center was launched in 1996. The shared-use kitchen incubator includes a licensed commercial kitchen, thermal processing, packaging, food service and warehouse space for more than 240 food processors and area farmers. "The program has pioneered non-traditional strategies to develop infrastructure, market programs and distribution channels for family farmers and local food processors in southeast Ohio, while also responding to the growing demand from rural consumers for fresh, local foods," the blog states.
Future articles in this series will explore the farmers and food producers themselves, and then the markets where the food is sold, and finally the eateries and restaurants in Athens that feature local food.