Iowa's Food Hubs Crucial Partners in Bringing Local Food to Schools

Schools reached new milestones in the use of local food

February 25, 2021, 8:46 am | Arlene Enderton

food hub participants.AMES, Iowa – Iowa children at 80 schools and early care centers ate healthy local food last fall despite the pandemic, thanks to the Local Produce and Protein Program grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (which was funded by the CARES Act). More than half of the schools partnered with a local food hub for procurement.

Food hubs are organizations that connect farmers with buyers, to aggregate and often deliver locally raised vegetables, dairy products and meat. Food hubs can help institutions purchase local food at a larger scale, expanding the market for Iowa-grown food and bringing more income to local farmers. Ten hubs operating across Iowa in 2020 belong to the Iowa Food Hub Managers Working Group, supported by staff at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development. Eight of the hubs supported the Local Produce and Protein Program in some way.

The working group recently released a report on the impacts of the LPPP on Iowa’s food hubs. Among their findings:

  • Schools in 53 of Iowa’s 99 counties used an LPPP grant to purchase local food last fall.
  • Of the $225,000 reimbursed to schools for food procurement, 51% was spent at food hubs.
  • Food hubs served 52 unique farm to school customers in 2020. Of these, 52% were new hub customers. All of these new customers were spending grant funds, demonstrating how the LPPP incentivized schools to buy local food for the first time.
  • Schools purchased an additional $111,689 of local food from hubs last year using non-grant funds, amplifying the impact of the grant. This indicates that the relationships they build with hubs encourages institutions to purchase more local food out of their own budgets.

Field to Family, a food hub based in Iowa City, connected with three schools new to local food procurement through the LPPP. Existing customers also ramped up their purchasing through the grant. Field to Family reports they sold more than $60,000 in local food to schools in 2020 — an increase of 50% over the $41,000 they sold and brokered in 2019.

At Clear Creek Amana school district, food and nutrition director Debbie Klein has long been committed to bringing Iowa products to students. She notes, “We could not do farm to school without a food hub.” Support from the LPPP helped her increase local food purchasing in 2020 in spite of the pandemic.

The report recommends continued investment in Iowa’s food hubs to build infrastructure supporting local food procurement for schools and early care centers. See the full report and executive summary at www.extension.iastate.edu/ffed/f2s under Research and Grant Reports.

 

Original photo: Food hub participants.

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