Forging a Strategic Plan for a Stronger Local Food & Farm Economy in NE Iowa

Brenda Ranum, Teresa Wiemerslage, and Charlie Baier – County Extension Education Directors; and Craig Chase – Farm Management Field Specialist, Northeast Iowa


In Fall 2004, agricultural producers in Winneshiek County requested that ISU Extension – Winneshiek County assist them in the promotion of agriculture to consumers.


This led to a series of educational meetings with producer boards and their leadership, to better understand the economics of agriculture to the communities in NE Iowa. One of the invited speakers was agricultural economist, Ken Meter who shared agricultural and consumer trends for Allamakee and Winneshiek counties. Meter’s message was a catalyst for agricultural leaders to experience a paradigm shift, helping them to understand why existing systems are not profitable or economically healthy. Fred Kirschenmann, director of the Leopold Center summarized this phenomenon in December 2005. He wrote, “It is becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to ignore the fact that we may be entering an era that will force agriculture to change more in the coming decades than it has in the last half century.” Instead of waiting for agriculture to change, however, citizens in Northeast Iowa began working to shape the future of agriculture in their region.

In November 2005, ISU Extension staff wrote a grant which was funded by the Leopold Center’s Regional Food System Working Group (RFSWG). This grant allowed 32 key community stakeholders in the Allamakee, Howard and Winneshiek counties to create a Strategic Plan that would develop new, and nurture existing food and fiber enterprises in the three county region. Stakeholders included commodity producers, community supported agriculture growers, lenders, market gardeners/orchard growers, extension agents, retailers, independent meat processors, and fund raisers. ISU Extension served as the convener and facilitator for all planning and public meetings. The Strategic Plan was finished in February 2006.


By April 2006, the key community stakeholders who developed the Strategic Plan formed the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm (NIFF) Coalition to continue working on a local food system. The area served has been expanded to include Clayton and Fayette counties. In addition, the coalition has developed a mission statement and goals for the group. The group continues to meet monthly and has established a webpage, and a member listserve,


“The mission of the NE IA Food & Farm Coalition is to support the development and marketing of locally grown agriculture products to enhance the lives of local citizens.”


Provide an opportunity for existing and new producers to diversify;
Explore the development of regional processing and storage facilities to add value to all agricultural products in the area;
Increase sales and consumption of locally grown food on a local, regional and national level.

As a result of the completion of the strategic plan, the following opportunities have emerged:
The RFSWG is providing $20,000 toward the development of a local food system. Northeast Iowa was selected to be the model for the state and to document a net increase in local food purchases of $50,000 the first year. Since June, the NIFF Coalition has twice been invited to share their model, knowledge, and experience with others from across the state of Iowa.
The Leopold Center is providing $8000 to be used for producer and consumer assessments in the area.
The Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa has given $1000 toward the printing of a Regional Food Directory.
The Leopold Center shared the Strategic Plan with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as a candidate for the Foundation’s Food and Fitness Initiative. As a result, northeast Iowa was one of 16 communities in the nation to receive an invitation to submit a Letter of Intent to apply for this program. The Foundation will award six (6) communities grants of approximately $250,000 per year for two years to plan a local food and fitness initiative. This initiative would allow citizens in northeast Iowa the opportunity to connect community health, physical activity and local food system initiatives. Additional funds would be granted for the implementation and evaluation of the approved plan.

August 2006
121 – Adding Value and Enhancing Agricultural Products

Page last updated: September 5, 2006
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