Michael Jones was excited to move from California to Ohio for a consulting job in 1995. He'd read that agriculture was the Midwest state's No. 1 industry, which, to the trained chef, meant lots of opportunity to work with area growers. But when Jones asked a Columbus chef, "Where's the local food?" the chef replied, "Didn't you know? Ohio is a corn and soybean state."

Michael Jones was excited to move from California to Ohio for a consulting job in 1995. He'd read that agriculture was the Midwest state's No. 1 industry, which, to the trained chef, meant lots of opportunity to work with area growers. But when Jones asked a Columbus chef, "Where's the local food?" the chef replied, "Didn't you know? Ohio is a corn and soybean state."

Jones, the executive director of Local Matters and owner of The Greener Grocer at the North Market, laughs about the misunderstanding now, because he's witnessed the shift in demand here in Columbus. "There's been a sort of explosion of interest from chefs across the city who really want to get more and more local ingredients and local food on their menu," he says.

But there's still plenty of work to do to create a better connection between local growers, chefs and diners. "People really have lost touch with where their food comes from," he says, explaining consumers have grown accustomed to getting any produce any time of year at the supermarket. "There's no real sense of the seasons of the year."

How can diners reestablish a connection with their food?

One of the easy places to make that connection, for most folks, is connecting with farms. A lot of what's happened in Columbus over the last five years is an explosion of farmers markets. For a long time there were maybe two or three well-attended markets. And you fast forward now, and they are everywhere. We recognize the role those connections and relationships play in building a community. The essence of that connection really starts there. It's a gathering spot.

How can consumers help create a thriving local food scene?

We need volume. We need scale. We need people who can grow large amounts of food to really be able to feed more and more people. And while a farmers market really facilitates great connections, it's limited in a certain extent in being a small market outlet for farmers.

Are there local farmers looking to expand the market?

There are individual farms and farmers who have been instrumental. Local Matters works closely with Wayward Seed Farm. They're deep thinkers about what we need to do to grow our business as farmers but really be part of this bigger systemic thinking and allow other farms like themselves to grow up to a certain point in terms of the amount they can produce that then allows them to make a living wage as a farmer.

What chefs are leading the charge in the kitchen?

Kent Rigsby (Rigsby's Kitchen) and Alana Shock (Alana's) in particular are two local chefs who have been working opportunities and connections with farmers for a long, long time. What I think is really cool now is the conversation has really moved from just fruits and vegetables to great cheese makers. We've got folks who are doing meats of one kind or another. Chefs are interested in getting more and more products for their entire menu as locally sourced as possible.

How does Farm to Plate help?

Last year when we had the opportunity to partner with Crave for Farm to Plate in addition to Local Foods Week, and pair those together, it was a great way for people to better understand that connection between the farm and getting that food to a restaurant because people love to eat out. If you can use that as a place to tell a story relative to the farmers, that's great.