Photograph by Josephine McRobbie

Locally grown food plays a key role in a sustainable society. Many local restaurants and businesses support local food production.

On Saturday, June 16, 10 Bloomington local foods organizations and businesses opened their doors to the community to promote sustainable practices and policies.

Businesses as diverse as orchards, wineries, organic gardens and greenhouses participated in the afternoon Local Foods Tour, the inaugural sustainability tour sponsored by the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability (BCOS).

"There's a lot of interest in eating healthy, and local foods supports that interest," said Keith Clay, BCOS member and a professor of biology at IU.

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Led by City Councilman Dave Rollo, the city created the BCOS in late 2005 to, according to Mayor Mark Kruzan, "play a leadership role in fostering sustainable local businesses, environmental integrity and social equity."

The 12-person committee "gathers and disseminates information; promotes practical initiatives; and measures, monitors and reports on our community's progress toward sustainability," states the BCOS Mission Statement.

The sustainability tours began, according to Clay, last fall after "we sent out a call to the community for ideas and projects ... and one idea that came up repeatedly was the idea of having sort of a tour that would highlight the sustainable practices or processes that people could go and see and get ideas and bring it back home with them."

The BCOS decided to pursue the idea, and the result will be a series of open house tours, modeled on the Bloomington garden tours.

"There's a map and a listing of places on the Bloomington city Web site," said Clay. Someone was available at each location to speak about what they're doing and why it contributes to sustainability.


Photograph by Josephine McRobbie

Local businesses like BloomingFoods, built on local markets, are fundamental to a sustainable economy. The food co-op's third store in the old Encore Cafe building, shown here, is scheduled to open at the end of June.

The BCOS chose local foods as a first topic because "it touched on the three E's that are in the mission of the sustainability commission - economic development, environmental health and social equity," said Clay.

"In theory, people can grow their own food for free, they don't have to go to the store to buy food, and in local food production, people are employed," he added, noting the Middle Way Food Works catering operation as an example of a successful local business that employs community members.

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Clay said that aside from social equity and economics, the tour is relevant for environmental reasons, noting that, with local foods, "the food isn't traveling 3,000 miles. There are probably less pesticides and chemicals utilized, and there's not mass factory farm production."

The Web site of the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, says environmental crises ranging from soil erosion to extinction of species of animals to global warming can all be blamed on unsustainable consumption.

"Thousands upon thousands of ... consumer items come to us via chains of production that stretch around the globe," the Web site says. "Along the length of this chain we pull raw materials from the Earth in numbers that are too big, even, to conceptualize."

The book One Planet Living notes that air-freighting goods releases 10 more times carbon dioxide than shipping by road, and air freighting fresh produce has tripled in the past 20 years.

The Sierra Club cites statistics that say over 700 gallons of water go into producing a cheeseburger "with everything."

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Stops on the first tour ranged from Chickens in the City, an urban chicken coop (just recently legalized, according to Clay), to SPROUTS, an Indiana University campus-community garden, to the new Near West Side BloomingFoods location, providing a pre-opening look at the grocery.

As for future tours, Clay said the BCOS is planning to do more, but the topics are not yet finalized.

The next tour may be on green building and remodeling, and one suggestion focuses on city utilities and resources, "things that we take for granted but really don't have a good understanding of how it all works," Clay said. "... The city itself, the various utilities, are doing a lot of interesting things."

He mentioned a sewage treatment plant as one possible tour stop.

"Though it's not something people talk about a lot, it's really critical, and it relates to the water quality of the town," he said.

And Miller-Showers Park is both a scenic spot and an ecological device.

"It serves an important role in cleaning the water before it flows down into the creek running through Cascades Park," said Clay "taking a lot of runoff from the city and processing it using biological approaches so that what comes out the other end is much cleaner than what's coming in at the beginning."

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Clay said the idea is that the BCOS will sponsor more tours, and the topic will rotate.

"But it's an evolutionary process," he said. "And if people have any ideas or suggestions we want to hear them."

Josephine McRobbie can be reached at .