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Going beyond farmers markets

By Staff | Feb 27, 2009

Part of last week's Iowa Network for Community Agriculture meeting schedule included small group discussions about how to promote local food.

MASON CITY – The INCAs held their annual conference in Clear Lake earlier this month. These attendees were not from South America, however, but Iowans who are members of the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture.

This organization was formed in 1995 when, according to their Web page, “a diverse group of gardeners, farmers, consumers and coordinators asked some questions.” The questions centered on the loss of readily available food that was locally grown. INCA was also concerned about the decline of rural communities and family farms.

INCA states as its mission to “cultivate connections among Iowans to create healthy, fair, and sustainable local food systems.”

The principles that INCA admonishes were given a boost when President Barack Obama, upon selecting Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture, gave Vilsack three goals, one of which was an emphasis on encouraging local food.

INCA’s annual conference is held each February at different locations all over Iowa as a way for advocates of sustainable and local food, whether as a producer or a consumer, to network. A highlight of the conference is the noon potluck meal with food brought in by INCA members and described as “tasty and eclectic.”

A highlight of each year's conference is the noon potluck meal serving dishes made from locally grown food.

Jan Libbey, of Kanawha, has One Step at a Time Gardens where she sells primarily vegetables to members who purchase shares each year at different levels of participation. Speaking at Feb. 7 meeting, she presented goals for North Iowa INCA members. These include:

  • Describe and understand the North Iowa food system.
  • Provide support for growers.
  • Educate consumers to go beyond farmers markets and create local food connections.

To get this done, large sheets of paper were hanging near a wall much like clothes on a line showing an array of discussions that include where food is bought, where it is grown, advantages unique to North Iowa, and resources to encourage sustainability.

The morning program was presented by an organization of several counties located in the southwest corner of Iowa called the Southwest Iowa Food and Farm Initiative.

According to their Web page at swiffi.org, their goal is “to build a sustainable regional food system linking production, processing, distribution, and consumption for better health, food security, and community and economic development.”

SWIFFI has promoted the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” food campaign as a way for growers to publicize what they have and where to get their products. Buy Fresh, Buy Local uses “outreach events, local food guides, and educational materials” to connect consumers with producers.

SWIFFI developed a food directory listing farms, restaurants, and farmers markets that support the Buy Fresh, Buy Local program. The farmers information includes location, phone number, e-mail address, and products for sale. The restaurant information tells what Iowa products are on the menu.

One of SWIFFI’s major accomplishments occurred when a local hospital starting buying locally grown food for the hospital kitchen.

Shirley Fredreksen, a SWIFFI member, told of a study showing that for every $100 spent for food, $14 stays locally when purchased from a commercial chain store; while $45 stays locally when food is bought from local producers. “Local sourcing produces regional benefits,” said Fredreksen.

During the afternoon, presentations focused on expanding a local food network, buying meat locally, the contributions of eating healthy, best choice of a market, seasonal cooking and eating, economic synergy of local agriculture, the impact of schools and hospitals buying local food, and the advantages of sustainability for young people entering agriculture.

Contact Clayton Rye at crye@wctatel.net.

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