The third annual Iowa Food Policy Conference convenes this week at Drake University in Des Moines. Neil Hamilton is a law professor and the director of Drake’s Agricultural Law Center. By the time late entrants register, he expects 150 people from Iowa and 25 to 30 other states, especially for Friday’s national forum on Farmers Markets and their role in America’s food system. There’ll be local officials, farmers, people in local food businesses, academics — a whole range of people interested in how America’s food system works. Discussions will include government farm programs, risk management and food processing. Hamilton says this isn’t a farming seminar or agribusiness alliance, it’s more about policy — the interface of government and the people who produce and consume food. He asks what are the government actions that influence what we eat, or how we make more opportunities for farmers, consumers, or rural communities. And in the Farmers Market workshop they’ll look at just what role those play. If farmers’ markets are more than a quaint thing to visit on Saturday morning, he says, they could signal an opportunity for farmers as well as having a role in influencing what we eat as a country. Iowa’s been looking for ways to create “value-added” business, and sell finished products for a higher profit than just raw farm commodities. There’s also the role of entreneurship and rural economic-development, and using food as a way to create new jobs and encourage new businesses, in areas like meat processing for example. The Iowa Food Policy Conference and national workshop are Thursday and Friday at Drake University.
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