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Community works to grow local food network

By Staff | Sep 18, 2009

John Paulin, coordinator for the Prairie Rivers of Iowa Conservation and Development Office, talks about the importance of a local food system at Marshalltown Community College Monday. Those in attendance were asked to identify local producers, processors and distributors.

MARSHALLTOWN – There are local producers, local processors and local consumers in Marshall County. So why is it these three groups have a hard time getting together to keep local food available locally?

That was the central question a group of interested citizens are tasked with trying to answer after attending the second of four meetings in Marshalltown with the goal of developing a local food system. The project is funded through grant from the Leopold Center of Sustainable Agriculture, based in Ames.

A long-term project goal is to repeat the network statewide once a viable system is developed in Marshall County.

Grassroots participation will be the key to success, said John Paulin, coordinator for the Prairie Rivers of Iowa Resource and Conservation Office. “For something like a local food system to happen, it must be a locally-led process,” he said.

“It can’t happen from the top down. It really needs to happen from the bottom up.”

At the end of the series of meetings, Penny Brown-Huber, who runs the Grow Your Small Market Farm business development program, said there would be a clear plan in place.

The meetings will focus on identifying a mission or vision statement, developing goal statements with action steps, assigning a leadership team and setting a timeline for moving the entire project forward.

The next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m., Oct. 5, in the Whitehall Auditorium of the Iowa Veterans Home, 1301 Summit St., in Marshalltown. The first meeting was held in early June.

“There are lots of opportunities for the food system here in Marshall County,” she said. If a local food system can be developed, it will create more economic benefits not only for local producers, but everyone else in the area as well as dollars will turn over more times in the community.

Further, she added, it would lessen the environmental impacts associated with transporting food long distances.

“These are going to be a good series of meetings,” said Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown. “As transportation costs increase, it’s good to look at the agricultural products we produce and see what markets there are locally.”

Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, said he was also excited by the possibilities.

“Both my wife and I purchase things from local producers,” he said. “Anything we can do to encourage more local markets I’m in favor of.”

Smith said the state legislature has already taken some steps to encourage local markets, including allowing the food stamp program to be used at farmers markets. However, he said there are more opportunities and believes some of those will be addressed in future sessions.

Contact Ken Black at (641) 753-6611 or by e-mail at kblack@timesrepublican.com.

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