By Linda Naeve
Extension Program Specialist
iowa State University
Vegetable gardens are in full production -- luscious, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and multitudes of zucchini. Yum. Unfortunately, you may be one of those who don’t have a vegetable garden or a generous neighbor or friend. Thanks to fruit and vegetable growers in your community, you can still enjoy summer garden delights and get to know the person who grew them for you. The emphasis on purchasing and consuming locally grown or raised foods has never been stronger. There are several reasons for this.
Healthy Eating. Although locally-grown produce isn’t advertised as more nutritious than produce that is shipped hundreds of miles, there is no doubt that it is fresher and more flavorful. With better tasting foods available, we are likely to eat more fruits and vegetables and meet our “five a day” quota. This is important because, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the number of adult Iowans who are overweight or obese has increased by 36 percent over the last 10 years.
Support our Local Economy. When we buy fresh food from local growers, we are supporting farmers in our area and keeping the dollars in the local economy. Studies estimate that processed food in the United States travels more than 1,300 miles, and non-local produce travels more than 1,500 miles, before being consumed.
Reconnect with the Land. Ask a six- or sixteen-year-old today if he or she knows where or how strawberries or pumpkins grow. There is a high chance that they know very little about how and where these fruits grow. Young and old alike can learn a lot about their food and how it is grown by visiting a local farmers’ market and talking to the actual grower (find a farmers’ market near you at http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/horticultureandFarmersMarket.asp). They can also go directly to the farm and pick their own the fresh berries, apples or pumpkins. To learn more about where you can visit local farms and what they have to show, do, or pick, go to: www.visitiowafarms.org.
Next year, you may want to invest in a farm that grows your food. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a local food system in which farmers provide fresh food, fiber, and related products directly to consumers in their area on a subscription basis. There are several CSAs around Iowa where consumers purchase a “share” of the produce before the season and then, throughout the summer, are provided with a regular supply of fresh vegetables and fruits. For more information on CSAs in Iowa and participating farms in the state, see ISU Extension Publication PM 1693, Iowa Community Supported Agriculture Farms, available online at: www.extension.iastate.edu/store or the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at www.leopold.iastate.edu.
There are several statewide and local organizations that are working toward increasing our awareness and appreciation for locally-produced foods. There are many ways you can enjoy the bounty that Iowa soils and farmers can produce – check them out while the supplies are plentiful and delicious.
- Iowa Network for Community Agriculture (INCA) “cultivates connections among Iowans to create healthy, fair, and sustainable local food systems.” INCA has partnered with Local Harvest to provide an online local foods locator (area farmers markets, CSAs, co-ops, restaurants committed to finding vendors selling and chefs preparing local foods (www.growinca.org).
- Slow Food® Iowa (www.slowfoodiowa.org) also has links to sources of locally-produced foods and restaurants where you can enjoy the flavor of Iowa-grown produce. They are one of 200 chapters of Slow Food® USA, a national local food movement with a mission to “reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food.”
- Buy Fresh, Buy Local is a comprehensive marketing program for farmers selling directly to consumers, restaurants, grocery stores and other institutions. Nationally the program is overseen by Food Routes Network and has 15 participating state organizations. In Iowa Buy Fresh, Buy Local is organized by Practical Farmers of Iowa in collaboration with a variety of partner organizations. To find a Buy Fresh, Buy Local chapter near you, visit http://www.practicalfarmers.org/programs/buy-fresh.html.
- Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness. Five counties in northeast Iowa have developed a unique program to improve the policies, practices, and systems that determine how food arrives on our tables and how northeast Iowa communities can grow opportunities for physical activity for all. http://www.iowafoodandfitness.org/.