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Tis the season to plan, promote farmers’ markets

By Staff | Feb 15, 2015

Lynn Heuss, assistant coordinator for the ISU Extension Local Food and Farm Program

SHELDON – Locally grown food matters to the people who grow it and promote it, not to mention those who, come summer, will seek it out and buy it.

Despite sub-zero temperatures, nearly 60 people were drawn to the farmers’ market workshop, held Jan. 29 by the Iowa State University Extension Service at Northwest Iowa Community College.

Only about 10 of those who attended were producers who sell their own produce at farmers’ markets. Like any business, a support structure underlies it.

The workshop, “Flavors of Northwest Iowa,” was organized and hosted by the ISU Extension.

Its target was anyone who provides a link in the local foods chain. Extension agents assist with crop care and growing information, gardening tips and in the regional marketing expertise that farmers’ markets need.

Still others who attended the workshop run the hydroponic tomato business for Village Northwest, a community in Sheldon for people with disabilities.

Some residents help care for and harvest the tomatoes.

The business provides jobs for them and revenue for the program, which sells its tomatoes to area grocery stores.

Other participants, such as South Sioux City Public Library Director Dave Mixdorf, run an active information and support hub for the farmers’ market in his city, serving as a coordinator for that market. He has taught apple tree grafting to residents.

Among those attending were Deanna and Jeff Shupe, of Mapleton.

Jeff Shupe, a teacher, said, “Education has always been the most important thing.

“How many farmers don’t know how to grow a garden to feed themselves?” He said students are now digging and growing gardens with their class.

Several other people nodded and said their school was also installing garden plots or had done it for a year or two.

One person said even after school was out for the summer, some students worked daily to care for the garden.

The wintery workshop drew about nine people who are directly involved in growing and selling their own freshly picked vegetables, or recently canned food items, at farmers’ markets.

They said they accept food stamps and WIC vouchers, noting many of their customers use them.

The Extension’s goal is to use a variety of approaches toward establishing a vision and a sustainable structure for the sale and success of fresh, locally grown foods.

Lynn Heuss, assistant coordinator for the ISU Extension Local Food and Farm Program, talked about possible funding opportunities in the federal farm bill.

Other Extension agents focused on the regional action plan and on ways to keep producers in touch with one another as they each help to build and strengthen the Regional Food Systems Working Group.

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