By LINDA McGURK
LEBANON, Ind. — A Connecticut native who ran a regulatory compliance consulting business for years and didn’t start cooking until she was in her forties, Victoria Wesseler may be an unlikely voice for the local foods movement in Indiana.
But by combining her passion for gardening with her aptitude for writing and creating the blog site Going Local at www.goinglocal-info.com that’s what she’s become.
“The Going Local site is all about the pleasure of local food,” Wesseler said. “The goal is to make it the go-to site for local food lovers in Indiana.”
Wesseler writes the blog from her rural home just north of Lebanon, Ind. When she and her husband, Robert, bought the seven-acre property in 1997 it was little more than “a pile of dirt and weeds,” she said. Today, several vegetable gardens abound with crops such as eggplant, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, kale, zucchini, chard, beets, asparagus, onions, green beans and sweet corn. A small orchard sports Asian pears, apples, plums, peaches and sour cherries, as well as a wide variety of berry bushes. And around the patio, edible flowers and herbs are mixed in with the ornamental varieties.
Growing up, Wesseler didn’t take much interest in cooking and gardening. But after meeting Robert, who grew up on a grain farm in Batesville, Ind., and taking a master gardeners’ class, she discovered a latent desire to grow, cook and preserve food. She estimates that she and Robert now produce about 50 percent of the food they eat. What they don’t consume themselves is given away to friends and local food pantries. “Last year we had so much fruit we were literally begging people to come pick it,” Wesseler said. “But at the end of the season it’s all gone. Nothing goes to waste.”
Nearly two years ago, Wesseler decided to retire from her consulting business and spend the next phase of her life doing something completely different. She created the Going Local site as a way to share her knack for gardening and cooking while promoting and celebrating foods produced in Indiana. “It was absolutely born out of passion,” she said about the site.
Going Local averages about 400 hits per day and Wesseler frequently hears from producers who want to be added to her list of local farmers. Since she started the site, Wesseler has noticed a surging interest in locally-produced foods.
“I think the last couple of years, the local food movement in Indiana has gained a lot of traction,” she said. “There have always been pockets of it, like in Bloomington, but now I think we’re seeing a more conscious effort to eat local in Indiana. I think the ISDA (Indiana State Department of Agriculture) has always made an effort to promote local foods but the last couple of years they’ve promoted it more aggressively.”
Wesseler believes there are many reasons behind the rising popularity of local foods, including better taste, improved traceability and a desire to support local farmers. “One thing that I talk a lot about is that it keeps money in the community, and I don’t think helping local producers will ever go out of style,” she said and added, “I think we’re getting to a point where eating local is the norm, not the exception. But there will always be a place for grocery stores … Buying local is more challenging in January and February, but we’ve got winter markets here in Indy and I’m just blown away by what they have to offer. Eggs, milk and cheese are always in season.”
Last year, Wesseler launched Going Local Week, a state-wide celebration of local foods that encourages Hoosiers to eat at least one locally grown or produced food at each meal during the seven-day event. The goal is to increase awareness of the availability of local foods in Indiana communities, provide support and recognition for local food producers, and ultimately boost the consumption of local foods in the state. Both the ISDA and the Indiana Department of Tourism have joined forces with Wesseler to promote the event, which runs from Sept. 6-12. “It’s a time to really go out and celebrate Indiana foods,” Wesseler said.