Local residents got a taste of the state’s culinary future earlier this month as the University of Rhode Island hosted its second Food Summit.

A wide range of people connected to the local food industry participated, from fishermen, farmers and craft brewers to researchers and policymakers. The event also served as a showcase for the recently announced URI Food Center, based on the Kingston campus. Dan Levinson, the center’s founder and chairman, said it is meant to be a “facilitator.”

“It’s our job to support people and their missions,” he said.

The mission at hand is a vital one. Figures presented during the summit show that Rhode Island produces a tiny fraction of the food that is consumed locally. Clearly, significant opportunity exists for local entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, food insecurity remains a daunting challenge for far too many local families. A more robust and sustainable local food economy would help provide for the needs of those who today worry about the source of their next meal.

The Food Center’s plans are ambitious. A 4,000-square-foot building is being renovated to serve as the initiative’s headquarters, with adjacent agricultural fields providing grounds for training and research. The hope is to develop a regional food system that, by the year 2060, produces half of all locally-consumed food.

The culinary arts are an integral part of Rhode Island’s cultural identity. Across the nation and beyond, our state is known as one of the premiere destinations for diners.

We applaud URI and the many others involved in the Food Center for undertaking the effort to more fully harness the potential of Rhode Island’s food industry. In a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive world, we are wise to embrace one of our greatest strengths and to support, connect and empower local experts and innovators.

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