Craig Chase, Farm Management Field Specialist; Brenda Ranum, Winneshiek CEED; Teresa Wiemerslage, Allamakee CEED; Charlie Baier, Howard CEED; Dan Burkhart, Fayette CEED; Dan Lane, Clayton CEED; and Mark Storlie, Swine Field Specialist; Northeast Area
Producers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders are looking at ways to increase the number of farms, farm families, and agri-businesses participating in their communities both economically and socially. One of the possibilities is to develop a vibrant local food system where producers and agri-businesses alike can deliver local foods to consumers.
The Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition, along with Iowa State University Extension, held six informational meetings throughout the 5-county area (Howard, Winneshiek, Allamakee, Clayton, and Fayette) with 162 participants attending. The meetings consisted of two webcasts outlining what information has been gathered so far integrated with large-group discussions on what was learned through the webcasts and what should be the logical next steps toward development of a local food system.
A record was kept of the discussion comments generated from each public meeting. In general, attendees were surprised at the amount of dollars being spent for local food, the availability of local food through CSAs and other outlets, and the diversity and strength in agriculture already present in Northeast Iowa. They also were excited that consumer and institutional interest in buying local food was increasing and there was still a lot of growth potential for local food production in the area. Attendees felt Northeast Iowa has some advantages for local food development related to its geography and terrain, the willingness and ability of its producers, and the strength of existing communities. Additionally, they felt some of the existing structure related to local food markets (larger food co-op, large organic food business), proximity to larger urban areas, and high number of consumers willing to pay more for local food were regional assets.
Although attendees felt there were existing strengths and assets already in place, they identified some missing pieces. Attendees wanted more information related to production (e.g., what can be grown here and how can we move toward year-round production), processing and distribution (e.g., how can we meet food safety standards and regulations, where do we locate and how many processing facilities do we need, and how do we distribute the food produced), and consumption (e.g., what do consumers want to purchase, how much do they want, and what are they willing to pay).
Attendees saw a great many opportunities. For producers, they saw a large number of diversified products being produced, possibly marketed collectively through a cooperative or other structure. Attendees believe that a variety of food processing options (flash freezing, canning, etc.) can be developed locally. They thought that food distribution could also be enhanced through additional farmers markets, food cooperatives, and other outlets.
When asked what it will take to develop a local food system, the general answer was education. Producers and entrepreneurs need help deciding what products and businesses are feasible and assistance developing business and marketing plans. Moreover, they will need education on handling, storage, and processing foods safely. Consumers (household and institutional) will need education on the health and economic benefits of local food and in many cases how to prepare it.
The Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition and ISU Extension are helping producers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders in Northeast Iowa understand the current agricultural industry they have and to proactively determine how the development of a local food system could meet their economic and social needs.
May 14, 2008
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June 13, 2008
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