Community Action brings new uses for agricultural land

Teresa Wiemerslage, Extension Program and Communications Coordinator; Brenda Ranum, Regional Extension Education Director; and Craig Chase, Farm & Ag. Business Management Field Specialist

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128-Alternative enterprises and value added agriculture

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Community Action brings new uses for agricultural land

Narrow profit margins in corn and soybean farming has forced farm businesses to increase acreage to remain profitable.  Larger, fewer farms has had a negative impact on many rural Iowa communities.  In 2005, a group representing Iowans from across the food system from Allamakee, Howard and Winneshiek Counties decided they needed to change what was happening in rural Iowa. They recognized the important link between agriculture and Main Street and wanted to see if they could repopulate some of the agricultural land surrounding their communities with smaller, locally-owned food-based agricultural businesses.

Iowa State University Extension, through a grant with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, facilitated a series of discussions in Northeast Iowa about the trend toward larger farms and how it is affecting the quality of life in rural communities.  ISU Extension led local farmers, agri-business owners, Main Street businesses, community development specialists, food businesses, and consumers through a strategic planning process to determine the “future” they would like to create for their communities.  Food production and the food supply chain (processing, storage, and distribution) were identified as critical areas of concern and a strategic plan was developed.  The Northeast Iowa Food and Farm (NIFF) Coalition was established to implement the strategic plan and develop the educational programs, events, and other efforts that would focus on providing all farmers (existing and new) with an opportunity to diversify and/or explore food production.

The NIFF plan will explore regional development of processing, storage, and distribution systems and increase consumption and sales of locally produced crop and livestock products.  The W.K. Kellogg Foundation selected the NIFF strategic plan as one of 9 national Food and Fitness Initiatives (FFI).  Through the work of NIFF and FFI, local schools have become engaged with Farm-to-School Chapters in Northeast Iowa and local grocery stores and other institutions such as hospitals and care centers are making regular purchases.  Luther College made a commitment to allocate 35% of their food budget to locally grown food products.  Local growers are expanding production capacity and the growing season.  The major impact resulting from NIFF actions are increased opportunities for existing and new farmers in food production.  Sales of local foods by farms in 2005-06 were under $10,000.  By 2009-10 sales of local foods approached $1.6 million.  Institutions purchased more than $830,000 of local food products.   
ISU Extension continues to explore ways to help rural communities pursue local food production as a community development strategy.  If interested in learning more about the NIFF Coalition, the FFI, or other activities in the Northeast Iowa Regional Food System Working Group, contact Teresa Wiemerslage 563-794-0599 (, Brenda Ranum 563-382-2949 (, or Craig Chase at 319-238-2997  (  Additional information on the NIFF Coalition can be found at  Additional information on the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative can be found at

128-Alternative enterprises and value added agriculture 

Page last updated: June 19, 2011
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