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A food, farm plan for Iowa

By Staff | Jan 28, 2011

Rich Pirog, associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, discusses a plan on Jan. 20 to help local Iowa food growers increase their sales of fruit, vegetables, poultry, meat and other foods.

WEST DES MOINES – In spite of a power outage at the meeting place itself, local food growers throughout Iowa and leaders of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture illuminated a plan to increase opportunities for farmers who produce or market fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry or other food products.

The Jan. 20 meeting, organized by the Leopold Center, forged on even as the electricity went out during the public briefing at the Hy-Vee Conference Center. Leopold Center staff members presented their Iowa Food and Farm Plan, which gives recommendations to improve opportunities for local food growers.

By the Leopold Center’s definition, local food growers are farmers who raise food in Iowa and market it in Iowa or its adjoining states. The plan’s goal is to increase sales of local food, estimated to account for only 14 percent of the $8 billion each year that Iowans spend on food.

The Iowa Food and Farm Plan lists 34 specific recommendations, including two that would require state funding: hiring a statewide coordinator for a Local Food and Farm Program for one year, and providing two years of support to Iowa’s Farm-to-School Program.

Rich Pirog, associate director of Leopold Center, said the plan did not include a specific appropriation that would be needed from the Legislature. “We thought that would be too prescriptive,” he said. The Food and Farm Plan was created by the Leopold Center, with input from about 1,000 people in 95 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“(This) isn’t the marking of something that’s done. It’s the marking of the next phase.” —Jan Libbey Kanawha grower

Local food growers supported the Iowa Food and Farm Plan, saying it brings them together as one voice and energizes their efforts to diversify Iowa’s agriculture economy beyond row crops and large livestock operations.

Jan Libbey, of Kanawha, a local food grower, said the FFP is a successful step in the process, regardless of whether funding is approved for the statewide coordinator position. “There’s so much more about bringing vitality into our rural communities. I wouldn’t get stuck on whether or not we have funding for that coordinator,” she said.

Libbey operates One Step At A Time Gardens, which produces a variety of vegetables, raspberries and poultry on an eight-acre farm. Libbey said she believes the process of creating the Food and Farm Plan was as important as the plan itself. “(This) isn’t the marking of something that’s done. It’s the marking of the next phase,” she said.

Libbey said one key step in helping local farmers succeed is getting the support of large farms. On her operation, one farm neighbor is very supportive of her operation and is careful of what pesticides and fertilizer he puts down adjacent to her land, while another farm neighbor “has no intention to have this type of cooperation. These two (farms) can coexist, but we have to have that platform of coming together. That needs work. This piece continues to build on that,” Libbey said.

Greg Rinehart, who grows fruits and vegetables as well as traditional crops on his farm near Boone, is the president of the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. “I think this is a wonderful plan. We all need to support it and get behind it with all of our energy,” Rinehart said. “I consider this a win/win proposition. Consumers benefit by having fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables and this helps keep our rural areas vibrant and growing.”

Rinehart said he started diversifying his traditional corn and soybean farm by growing sweet corn, after learning that the RAGBRAI bike ride would be going past his farm. “That was the initial beginning of direct marketing. Farmers don’t have to grow just two crops a year, corn and soybeans. We can also grow many types of fabulous seasonal fruits and vegetables,” he said.

Two state legislators addressed the local food group and supported the efforts of the Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan, but were careful not to pledge any tangible support, in the form of appropriations. “You did want a little bit of money. That’s going to be a little bit of a challenge,” said Rep. Jack Drake, R-Griswold. He referred to a legislative session that will feature budget cuts, rather than expansion.

The Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan includes many recommendations that do not require state funds. Other recommendations include:

  • Creation of a Local Food and Farm Program Fund to support local food programs from the sale of collectible local food posters, bumper stickers, stamps and license plates,
  • Business development and financial assistance for farmers and local food businesses.
  • Food and meat processing education and training programs.
  • Food safety education and a pilot cost-share program for food safety audits.
  • Business training programs that target beginning, minority or transitioning farmers.
  • Data collection to assess progress and track state agency and educational institution purchases of local foods.
  • Pilot incentive programs for five K-12 school districts and five health care facilities that serve Iowa produce.

The plan is designed to increase direct-to-consumer sales as well as retail and institutional sales by providing the infrastructure, research and development, and incentives to support increased local food production and marketing.

Farmers and local food businesses are expected to see benefits with increases in profitability and market venues and communities are expected to benefit from additional jobs.

Local food and farm plans have been developed in at least a dozen other states and regions including Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina and the City of New York.

The Leopold Center was asked to lead development of a plan in Iowa because the research center, located at Iowa State University, has created partnerships and networks for local food throughout the state as a result of its programs.

To read the 63-page Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan, visit the Leopold Center website at www.leopold.iastate.edu/foodandfarmplan.html, or request a copy by calling the Leopold Center office at (515) 294-3711.

Contact Dave DeValois at dwdevalois@yahoo.com.

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