A conference today (Friday) and Saturday in Ames will focus on the link between local producers and consumers who want to support their area’s economy and enjoy local foods. Organizer Gary Guthrie It includes community-supported agriculture, where consumers contract with a farmer to get a weekly box of vegetables, and also farmers markets and those who grow local food to supply restaurants that feature local products, which is growing more popular. Guthrie says half the expected 80 people attending are farmers, the rest partners concerned about issues like secure and safe sources of food. While many local producers are organic, there’s another conference for that topic, and Guthrie says a guest speaker will be the head of Iowa-based “Seed Saver’s Exchange” in Decorah. He says in a day when many commercial seeds are concentrated in the control of fewer companies, the seed savers maintains genetic diversity and promotes it for the welfare of all growers, especially small-market producers. Business will be one focus of the conference today and tomorrow, to link growers with buyers. They have workshops on connecting restaurants and growers, marketing the produce, and what kind of features consumers look for like packaging and quantities. Some people attending that he knows of have moved back to Iowa and want to farm and make those connections. Guthrie himself is a niche-market provider, having found a “fall-winter” variety of carrot buyers can’t get elsewhere. Guthrie says commercial growers can’t grow these because the carrots are so crips, they break when harvested by machines — his carrots grow sweeter in the cold fall weather and are like “nothing you’ve ever tasted,” he says. The 8th annual Iowa Local Food System Conference continues tomorrow in Ames.
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