New Market Opportunities Emerge for Locally-Grown Food
Keokuk, IA - Local food producers, food buyers, and other community members from Southeast Iowa gathered on February 27th to build a network and develop market opportunities for locally-grown food. The GRRETA Project and ISU Extension and Outreach hosted the event at the Lake Cooper Event Center. Jan Swinton, Local Food Coordinator for Pathfinders RC&D, and Marsha Laux, Program Coordinator for the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Value Added Agriculture Program led participants in a discussion on food system assessment and history of food system work in Lee County. Speakers representing each part of the food system shared their challenges and successes in working with local food.
Jim Johnson, owner of Jim's Greenhouse in Montrose represented the production piece of the food system at the meeting. He spoke about his experience owning his family business, and growing and selling produce to area retailers. "I would grow more if I knew for sure there would be a market for it," said Johnson when asked about market opportunities in the area.
Processing fresh produce was discussed as a potential opportunity for growers to increase profits, or for institutions to save money. Davis Community School District Food Service Director Stephanie Hawkins shared how her school utilizes flash freezers to have locally grown produce available year-round. "Our cooks work year-round, and in the summer we purchase local green beans in bulk for them to process for the rest of the school year," said Hawkins. "The kid's can really taste the difference."
Mark Cohen, a marketing consultant based out of Fairfield, gave marketing advice to producers. "If you have to educate the consumer on how to use your product, they are probably not your target customer," Cohen said. "There are already people out there who want your product, you just have to figure out how to reach them." He also encouraged growers to think about how customers are looking for their products, especially through social media and smart phones.
Growers also networked with buyers from the area who were interested in purchasing local food, including Hy-Vee of Keokuk, Main Street Market of New London, and Fox and Crane Restaurant of Keokuk. PJ Marshall, produce manager for the Keokuk Hy-Vee told producers that Hy-Vee is interested in connecting their customers to the farmer, and telling their story. "If I could buy everything in my department from growers within 100 miles, I would."
Some challenges that were brought up were educating consumers on why local food may cost more and the high costs of equipment and transportation, Swinton and Laux have set the next Forming a Local Food Network meeting for April 10th to discuss these issues further and set goals for improving the system. Contact Alex Merk at 319-835-5116 or firstname.lastname@example.org to find additional information on the next meeting.
The Great River Region Entrepreneurial Technical Assistance (GRRETA) Project is supported by a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant to the Lee County Economic Development Group and collaborators that include ISU Extension and Outreach, Pathfinders RC&D, and other local food system support networks from Lee, Henry, Louisa, and Des Moines counties in Southeast Iowa.
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