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Boosting Iowa's Local Food Economy

Boosting Iowa's Local Food Economy

Leopold Center offers a plan to bolster the economy for locally-grown food in Iowa and increase the opportunity for farmers who want to sell Iowa-grown foods in local and regional markets.

A new statewide plan would boost the local food economy and increase opportunities for those who want to buy or sell Iowa-raised meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fruit, vegetables and other crops in local and regional markets.

These recommendations are part of the Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan, submitted this week to the Iowa Legislature by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. During last year's legislative session, the center was asked to provide specific policy and funding actions that would support and expand local and regional food systems in Iowa.

The Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan has 34 recommendations, including creation of a state-level local food and farm program, education and training for producers and local food businesses, changes in state policy to benefit local food businesses, and data collection to track growth of local food sales. The plan calls for a one-year state appropriation to hire a local food and farm state coordinator. In subsequent years, the position and cost to implement other recommendations would be supported by a voluntary Local Food and Farm Program Fund.

State legislature asked the Leopold Center to develop a plan

"Iowa has the potential to grow the local food economy with strategic but modest investments, incentives and better coordination of existing resources," says Rich Pirog, Leopold Center associate director who led development of the Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan.

Pirog says the 2010 amendment requiring the Leopold Center to develop the plan asked for actionable items that would increase local food production and marketing in Iowa. "The Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan truly is a plan, not just a set of recommendations," he says. "The plan offers specific actions, and for each action the plan outlines why it is important, who would implement it, where resources would come from, and the benefits."

More than 1,000 people from 95 of Iowa's 99 counties contributed to the Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan. Information was gathered at workshops, 15 listening sessions throughout the state and two surveys. The draft recommendations were discussed with leaders of 21 state agencies, institutions and organizations.

Locally produced food is only 14% of what Iowans spend on food

According to the plan, the state has an opportunity to increase sales of local food, estimated to account for only 14% of the $8 billion each year that Iowans spend on food. 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 ISU, has created partnerships and networks for local food throughout the state as a result of its programs.

Pirog says an unintended but positive part of the past year's work on the Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan has been relationships built among those interested in seeing local foods contribute more to the state's economy and communities. Pirog writes in the plan: "Together, we can make a vibrant local food economy a reality to the benefit of Iowa farmers, entrepreneurs, and communities, and add another chapter to Iowa's storied agricultural heritage."

Among the 34 recommendations in the plan, only two require state appropriations. They are to:

•  Hire a statewide coordinator for a Local Food and Farm Program (to be supported by a voluntary funding mechanism after year one), and

•  Provide two years of support to Iowa's Farm-to-School Program.

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.

To get a copy of the 63-page Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan, go to the Leopold Center website at,  or request a copy by calling the Leopold Center office at 515-294-3711.

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