With the 4-H fairs in full swing, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about agriculture. Since Indiana became a state back in 1816, agriculture has played a vital role in our livelihood. For those who are not from Indiana, our state is practically synonymous with corn and even our capital city lies surrounded by flat, rich farmland.
As you can imagine, this lends itself to a General Assembly filled with strong agriculture advocates, myself included. Just this past session, we had nine bills successfully pass out of the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, each benefiting our rural communities in a different way.
One noteworthy example was House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1039 which created the Indiana Grown Commission. This commission will be comprised of Indiana residents and marketing experts, as well as representatives from the agriculture industry, local retailers, farmers' markets and restaurants who will meet quarterly to come up with new ways to market and promote Indiana produced agricultural products.
Given our district’s landscape, I am confident that you already understand what a strong agricultural state we live in. However, did you know that Indiana imports nearly 90 percent of its food? When we began discussing this legislation and that number was presented to me, I nearly did not believe it, but it gave me even more of a reason to want to be a part of something which allowed Indiana to showcase the strength of its agriculture industry.
By promoting local goods and helping connect producers with local vendors, Indiana will join what several other states have already done quite successfully. For instance, South Carolina developed the Certified South Carolina program and has since seen $265 million in new economic value in addition to $23 million in new tax revenue. State leaders are constantly looking for ways to further boost our already strong economy, and this provides a way to do that with resources we already have readily at our disposal.
We also passed legislation this session that allows students to be excused from school for up to five days if they, or a member of their household, is participating in the State Fair. Our thought behind crafting this legislation was that we did not want students, especially those interested in agriculture, to be discouraged from competing in the State Fair due to conflicts with the school calendar.
According to the Department of Education, 99 percent of all Indiana schools have a start date in August or before, which means there are very few schools that do not overlap with the State Fair. If students are not granted an excused absence to participate in fair activities, there is a chance they could have to forgo a project they worked long and hard on, in addition to forgoing the educational knowledge they could obtain by participating in the fair.
The 4-H program has been a part of Indiana for a long time, and student participation affords them a significant educational opportunity that cannot be learned from a textbook. In fact, for some this may even be training for their future career. I hope that you will join me in supporting our Hoosier homegrown agriculture, and I look forward to seeing you soon at one of our local 4-H fairs!