GARNER – Strengthening the connection between growers and consumers of locally grown food was the theme Tuesday at the Prairie Winds Resource Conservation and Development office in this central Hancock County community.
Unfortunately, it was those same prairie winds that created slick roads from drifting snow that reduced the crowd size to about half of the 19 who had preregistered, said Mark Schutt, coordinator for Prairie Winds RC&D.
The 10 people attending represented a mix of growers, and businesses through which growers can market their meat, fruit and vegetable products.
The RC&D is one of 17 in Iowa, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and is composed of Hancock, Wright, Cerro Gordo, Franklin, Worth, and Winnebago counties.
Kamyar Enshayan, Ph.D., of Cedar Falls, is a director for the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at University of Northern Iowa and for the Black Hawk County regional Buy Fresh, Buy Local organization. He spoke on his county’s success in making that growers-to-consumer connection.
Enshayan used the statistic from ISU economist David Swenson saying that if residents of the Black Hawk County area would buy fruits and vegetables for three months of the year, the result would be 475 new jobs and $6.3 million in labor income for that area.
Enshayan cited examples of two purchasers of local food, Bartels Lutheran Retirement Community, of Waverly, and Rudy’s Tacos, of Cedar Falls.
A chart of the Waverly organization showed purchases of locally grown meat, vegetables, dairy and baked goods totaling $42,327 in 2004. Since it was dealing directly with the producer, the retirement community set specifications for its purchases.
In 2007, Rudy’s Tacos spent $167,790 out of a total of $237,595 representing 71 percent of its food purchases from food grown locally.
“The meat lockers at Janesville and Gilbertville were benefiting from this arrangement of having customers purchase directly,” said Enshayan.
Enshayan described Iowa’s primary local foods resources as “good soil and good people.” He believes that keeping the money spent for food in local communities benefits both growers and consumers.
The UNI Center for Energy and Environmental Education says that for every dollar spent in the local food economy, from 1998 to 2008, a multiplier effect resulted in that dollar being worth $14.60.
The Northern Iowa Food and Farm Partnership was formed in 1997 as part of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at UNI. Its purpose is helping local producers and consumers find each other through a directory, both in print and online, serving as a means of communication for both, promoting farmers markets, organizing farm tours, and managing the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign.
Enshayan presented a chart showing that the Black Hawk effort accounted for almost $2.5 million in local food purchases during 2008 by almost 30 institutions.
Sara Hanson, of the Fresh Connections Food Cooperative, in Algona, told of her business’s progress since opening last June. The store’s membership has grown from 180 at opening to 240 members. The membership is mainly from an area of about an hour’s drive from Algona.
Fresh Connections has 20 producers who sell to the cooperative. To sell, a producer must belong to the co-op, but customers are not required to join. Fresh Connections has guidelines for its producers covering growing practices and keeps a profile of its producers available for consumers to review.
Hanson reported that $14,000 has been paid to local producers by Fresh Connections.
Mark Schutt presented information from Local Harvest Supply, part of Hawkeye Foodservice Distribution. LHS has four warehouses including Coralville, plus Fairmont, Minn., Danville, Ill., and Wright City, Mo.
LHS is in search of local growers, Schutt said, for a wide range of fruits and vegetables it can sell to its customers of Hawkeye Foodservice.
Contact Clayton Rye by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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