Little to no rainfall and scorching temperatures during the summer months characterized the worst drought our state has seen in more than two decades.
Farmers and agriculture-related business owners were hit especially hard by the drought and are currently suffering from low crop yields, lost livestock and damaged fields.
During these difficult economic times, it is more important than ever to support our community growers and producers.
Last week, the Indiana Department of Agriculture (ISDA) reminded Hoosiers to shop and eat locally with "Go Local Week 2012."
The challenge was to eat at least one locally grown or produced food item at each meal.
Today, I encourage Hoosiers to take this challenge to the next level and make a sincere effort to support hometown ventures not just for one week, but every week.
According to the ISDA, if Indiana residents were to shift just $4.50 of their weekly food budget to buy food directly from local farms, it would generate $1.5 billion in new income annually for Hoosier agriculture. That's a 20-percent increase.
Thanks to increasing public demand for local products, as well as state and community initiatives to support Indiana ventures, the accessibility of homegrown goods is on the rise.
Proof of this is seen by the surge in farmers' markets across the state. More than one hundred communities in Indiana now host markets, offering everything from hand-picked peppers to fresh cheeses and meats from the farm down the street.
In addition, the ISDA offers a program to help consumers more easily locate and purchase Indiana products.
Indiana Grown is a cooperative effort among producers, processors, wholesales, retailers and the ISDA to promote Indiana goods.
If you see an "Indiana Grown" logo, you can be sure that the product was grown and produced in the Hoosier state, and passed the required safety and health standards.
Visit www.in.gov/isda/2516.htm for a list of Indiana Grown producers.
Choosing local may not always be the most convenient option, but I assure you, it's the most valuable.
Families who choose local goods will know they are receiving fresh, high quality products while at the same time, investing in their own communities.
Small businesses and agriculture no doubt fuel our state economy -- Indiana agriculture represents a $26 billion industry and small businesses account for half of all Hoosier jobs.
So the next time you're planning a meal or shopping for a gift, spend your dollar on an Indiana product.
And don't forget to frequent those community mom-and-pop shops, the hardware or jewelry store on the town square.
It's these hometown farms, shops and vendors that are helping Indiana weather the recession better than most of our neighbors, and ensuring our communities remain strong, vibrant places to live.