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Iowa State University Extension

Farm incubator connects immigrant farmers and local food system

Produce in farmers' market

Eighty acres of Marshall County land soon will become mini farms, where new Latino immigrants as well as long-time residents will raise organic fruits and vegetables side by side and row by row. ISU Extension in Marshall County and Iowa Valley Community College at Marshalltown are recruiting growers for this new farm incubator program that begins in January, with actual crop production during the 2009 season.

These local partners, with the help of ISU Extension researchers and grants through the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Prairie Rivers Resource Conservation and Development, are simultaneously developing the farm incubator program and associated immigrant farmer training, and a multicultural local/regional food system.

“We believe this program will appeal to Latinos who were involved in farming in their country of origin, as well as locals who want to expand their farmers’ market sized business to the next level,” said Angie Nelson, ISU Extension education director for Marshall County. “Research supports the belief that a multicultural local food and marketing system brings opportunity to a community.”

Nelson cites ISU research conducted by Hannah Lewis, program coordinator, under the guidance of Jan Flora, ISU Extension community sociologist, that indicates Latino farmers have a strong interest in returning to farming, but they don’t know how to access the land. The Marshalltown incubator addresses this issue by providing land (owned by the community college) that the farmers will rent, along with training and experiences in diversified small scale agriculture and Iowa production techniques.

The incubator partners also will be working with local businesses to source their food locally to develop the multicultural local food and marketing system.

“When produce is used locally, social capital as well as economic capital grows -- benefiting the community in multiple ways,” Flora said. “The incubator and training being developed in Marshalltown has the potential to be replicated in many Iowa communities. Our partnership with Prairie Rivers RC&D opens up opportunities to establish a regional food system, which can have tremendous implications economically.”

For more information contact Nelson,, or Flora,

This article appeared in January 2009 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter