AMES, Iowa – Iowa’s growing number of local food coordinators work to build and strengthen local food systems across the state. A recent survey conducted by the Local Foods Program of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach found that local food coordinators and other local food system practitioners face many challenges, including lack of training in strategic planning, grant-writing and fundraising. The Local Foods Program team is developing a spectrum of services to help address these needs, with the support of a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education professional development grant. Through this project, food coordinators and educators will receive training and professional development opportunities to better support farmers, communities and their regional local food system.
Iowa’s local food coordinators have many responsibilities, including:
- Coalition-building with stakeholders
- Supporting growth of marketing, aggregation and distribution of local foods
- Organizing agritourism activities
- Providing technical assistance to producers
- Developing community local food policies
Currently about 25 local food coordinators are working statewide; some are employees of ISU Extension and Outreach, and others work for extension councils or nonprofit organizations. Their work helps improve the profitability and quality of life of farmers, and promotes job creation, economic development, stronger and healthier communities and effective local food systems. They work to strengthen the relationships between community stakeholders, including producers, institutions, businesses, government agencies and consumers. A study conducted by Iowa State in 2013 found that the work of local food coordinators leveraged $1.648 million to support food systems development and create 171 new jobs across Iowa that year.
Efficient local food systems require a coordinated, statewide professional development and peer network program to meet the increasing demand of responsibilities put on coordinators. The Local Foods Program’s professional development project will provide:
- Opportunities for peer support and education such as the Regional Food Systems Working Group’s quarterly meetings
- A one-year peer mentorship program between experienced and beginning local food coordinators in a skill area they identify
- Peer-to-peer learning group conference calls centered around identified topics of need/interest
- Individualized in-person technical consultation for RFSWG members
- A beginning local food coordinator toolkit with tailored essential information for new local food coordinators and their supervisors; available on the local foods program website at www.extension.iastate.edu/localfoods/
The grant project will be advised by a committee of three local food farmers, three local food coordinators, the project evaluator and a national expert in food system development.
The project report, available on the ISU Extension Store as "Local Food Coordinators Survey and Learning Circle Reports" summarizes the Local Food Program’s finding and ongoing plans for supporting local food coordinators.