It’s very well to say local consumers should buy locally-produced foods, but it takes some work to get them together. That’s the goal of a project in northeast Iowa where Brenda Ranum is education director with I-S-U extension in Winneshiek County.
One of the things they’re really good at in northeast Iowa, Ranum says, is growing local foods…not only raising them locally but also distributing them regionally and eventually aiming to sell them in national markets as well. Farmers, ag lenders and others with a stake in it formed the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition.
One goal’s to provide an opportunity for local producers to diversify, not necessarily quit growing corn and beans but how they might convert some of their acres to other crops that they could grow and process. She says that would include locally grown potatoes, strawberries, grapes and apples.
Another goal is to bring back food-processing capability to help handle the variety of foods grown in the region. “We’ve lost a lot of the processing facilities and different opportunities we used to have,” Ranum says, but there are ways to bring it back on a regional basis and do more than before. That could include a portable system that will spray a light mist on fresh fruit and freeze it so it can be shipped and stored for sale in wider markets. They’ll try and sell more to local hospitals, schools and other institutions, too.
A small grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture will help the coalition study the market and what people in the region are interested in buying.