By Courtney Long, Community Food Systems Program Coordinator
Businesses across the state are trying new and innovative strategies to remain open and continue to serve Iowans. Farms and food businesses are also stepping up to meet the demand for local food products. Many farmers markets are moving to online sales and virtual options to continue to support customers and vendors in this trying time (Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Farm, Food, and Enterprise Development (FFED); 2020).
Organic meat and produce sales have increased since the COVID-19 epidemic, possibly because consumers want to know the source of their food, or because of lower availability of meat at grocery stores (Delate, 2020). Another hot commodity during COVID-19 are root crops. A recent success story from the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences highlights farmers Steve and Beth Rachut and the Kittleson Brothers potato and onion packing facility in their ability to meet consumer demand. Kittleson Brothers is a local production and packing business that distributes to grocers and restaurants in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota.
Prudent Produce (#GoodFoodDelivered) is a locally owned and operated business that offers door-to-door delivery as an aggregated organic and local-grocery service or online farmers market.
According to Tony Thompson, owner of Prudent Produce with his mother, Cindy Kirschbaum, “The business has seen a major uptick in demand over the past two months largely due to COVID-19, as we have more than doubled the number of doorsteps we are delivering to each week.”
Because of their business model of aggregating products at their Elkhart location and distributing door to door, they were prepared for “contactless” delivery. Other than minor tweaks to enhance sanitary practices, their way of working hasn’t changed much.
“We just have much more work to do!” said Thompson. “Sourcing a sufficient supply of local produce and proteins for this increased demand might have been a challenge in normal times; it's a major area of focus for us now, and luckily we have strong partnerships with dozens of producers around the state.”
Additional food businesses that offer distribution models include food hubs and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Food hubs have several different models and can source directly to the consumer’s door, or support wholesale distribution to restaurants and retailers. A typical CSA is an aggregated box of products from one farm that is picked up weekly; however, there are new models of groups of farms working together for a more diverse box.
ISU Extension and Outreach’s FFED program regularly updates an Iowa Food Hub Directory and Iowa CSA Directory and provides the most current COVID-19 resources for small farms, food systems, and business enterprises at its website (https://www.extension.iastate.edu/ffed/ffed-covid-resources/).