Building Capacity to Support Local Food System and Community Marketing Efforts in Iowa

Final Report for ENC00-048

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $39,201.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Robert Karp
Practical Farmers of Iowa
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Project Information


Five workshops were held across Iowa on local food and community marketing. The workshops, targeted to agriculture professionals and community stakeholders, employed novel approaches in order to engage the participants to think more deeply about the food system and become better resource providers to farmers and others involved in alternative production and marketing efforts. The workshops were extremely well-attended and evaluations show they were highly effective. While the longer term impacts of the workshops remain to be seen, follow up evaluations suggest that many participants have become more active and effective in supporting community marketing efforts in Iowa.

Project Objectives:

Our objectives were the following:

1. Increase knowledge and understanding of local food system concepts and community marketing strategies by CES, NRCS staff and other key agriculture professionals,

2. Increase the capacity and commitment of CES, NRCS staff and other key agriculture professionals to engage in partnerships and projects that support local food system and community marketing efforts;

3. Develop an effective local food systems training model and manual that will be replicable for use in other states in the North Central Region;

4. Share knowledge and experiences gained from existing community marketing and local food system projects, including those that have been funded by NC SARE;

The hoped for long term impact of these efforts included:

1. The proliferation of successful community marketing and local food system projects in Iowa;

2. Institutionalization of programs that address gaps in the infrastructure and support system necessary for a more local food system;

3. Greater profitability and proliferation of farms practicing sustainable agriculture.


Iowa has witnessed an unprecedented expansion of community marketing efforts as a model for alternative agricultural development. In the last ten years:

• the number of farmers' markets in the state has grown 88%, and in the last 5 years the consumer spending at farmers markets in Iowa has doubled from 2.5 to 5 million dollars;

• in the last five years the number of Community Supported Agriculture projects has grown from 0 to 40;

• there are now six successful efforts across Iowa facilitating institutional buying of locally grown foods;

• ISU Extension now employs a full time Local Food System specialist;

• in 1999 the Iowa Department of Economic kicked off a 'Taste of Iowa" program, designed to increase customer recognition, appreciation and buying of Iowa grown and processed foods.

In response to this growth, the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture created in 2000 a Local Food Systems Task Force. The Task Force highlighted some significant gaps in the infrastructure and support system they felt was necessary if local food system and community marketing efforts were to succeed and become a more significant part of the Iowa agricultural landscape. Some of these gaps included:

• lack of production and marketing related technical assistance to farmers and growers,

• the need for greater cooperation among producers;

• the need for small to medium scale regional food system entrepreneurs, processors, brokers and distributors;

• the need for greater cooperation between growers, distributors and food buyers;

• the need for effective consumer education and social marketing efforts.

To address these gaps the Task Force made several recommendations concerning the need to educate and build the capacity and commitment of key agricultural professionals along with other stakeholders in the food system. Iowa State University Extension, for example, has worked with a number of partners to develop models of sustainable, local food projects, but they have yet to train their own staff and other agency staff in implementation of the models on a wider basis. The same is true for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The purpose of this SARE PDP project was build the capacity of these key agricultural professionals and other important stakeholders such as community college instructors in agriculture and culinary arts; economic development professionals; Farm Service Agency staff , Rural Development Council members; community organizers; targeted farmers, retailers, distributors and processors; consumer group representatives; and staff of nonprofit staff, so that they might become active and effective in supporting community marketing efforts in Iowa. These agricultural professionals are charged with providing support to Iowa's farmers and growers, and it is their commitment and creativity, which could move local food systems and community marketing efforts to the center of Iowa's agricultural vision over the next several years.

We planned to accomplish this by organizing five one day training workshops on local food systems and community marketing. A local food systems training manual was also to be created to support the workshops and provide a resource in the field.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Team Building

Formation of a strong project team that included representatives of the same groups that were we were trying to reached through the workshops.



Team Building

One of the core elements to the success of this effort was the formation of a strong project team that included representatives of the same groups that were we were trying to reached through the workshops. This team consisted of the following individuals:

Tanya Meyer, NRCS
Mary Swalla Holmes and Shelly Gradwell, ISU Extension
Rich Pirog, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Jan Libbey, producer and coordinator of the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture
Robert Karp and Gary Huber, Practical Farmers of Iowa

Through this diverse team we were able to anticipate the perspectives and biases that the participants for workshops might be bringing with them.

Besides diverse representation, another goal of this team was to establish a level of trust and creativity that would foster our ability to create a fresh and novel approach to the intended workshops and training manual. This was accomplished in several ways:

1) Using theater and improvisational games. For example, a simple game called 'group juggling' was used at the start of each meeting to build a greater sense of cooperation and fun in our work. Another example, involved developing workshop ideas using an exercise that involves a pretend conversation in which a group looks back on an imaginary, highly successful event, describing the features that made it successful.

2) By identifying personal as a well as professional goals that each member of the team hoped to accomplish in through the project. For example, one member identified some of the following personal and professional goals: Bringing creativity and playfulness into work projects, becoming a better listener; feeling less anxious when speaking in public.

3) By describing the qualities that we wanted to bring into our work together, such as the following: Trust, Openness, Honesty, Creative, Productive, Strong Connection, Good Listening, Safe to speak your truth, Imaginative, Fun, Energizing, Community Building, Slower Pace, A place apart, Room for ambiguity, "chaos."

Follow up evaluation with the Project Team revealed that most members of the planning team felt the Iowa CAFÉ was one of their best professional experiences ever, even after a busy five workshops in six weeks schedule. Most also felt that the trust and teamwork built up by the project team carried over and had an impact on the quality of the workshops and the experience of the participants.

Number of Workshops, Locations and Dates

Our goal was to conduct five one day Iowa CAFÉ workshops across the state, reaching both rural and urban communities. Below are the final dates and location of the workshops held:

May 24th in Lewis, Iowa at the Wallace Foundation for Rural Research and Development.
June 13th in Iowa City at Montgomery Hall, Johnson County Fairgrounds.
June 14th in the Storm Lake at Stevens Forum Building, Buena Vista University.
June 20th in Fayette, Iowa on campus at Upper Iowa University.
June 21st in Ankeny on campus at Des Moines Area Community College.

Audience and Attendance

One of our goals from the start was to bring together a diverse array of participants and to have as many as fifty people attend each workshop. We succeeded on both fronts through strong support from our partners and a concerted publicity effort. Below is a summary of the attendance and background of participants:

Total Participants of all workshops: 273

Attended for each Location:
Ankeny: 50
Fayette: 50
Iowa City: 65
Lewis: 51
Storm Lake: 58

NRCS total attended: 53 (or 19.4% of all attendees)

NRCS attended by location
Ankeny: 7
Fayette: 9
Iowa City: 16
Lewis: 10
Storm Lake: 11

Extension total attended: 36 (or 13.2 % of all attendees)

Extension attended by location:
Ankeny: 6
Fayette: 7
Iowa City: 4
Lewis: 9
Storm Lake: 10

Farmer Participant Total: 25 (or 9.2 % of all attendees)

Farmer Participants in each Location:
Ankeny: 5
Fayette: 4
Iowa City: 5
Lewis: 5
Storm Lake: 6

The remaining 159 participants, comprising 58.2% of attendees were drawn from the following groups: non profit employees, religious representatives, economic developers, food services employees, professors and educators, students, business people and employees of other federal or state agencies.

As mentioned above, our goal from the start was to develop a fresh and novel approach to a professional development workshop, an approach grounded in the theme of the workshop itself. Out of a series of brainstorming sessions we came upon the idea of the "Iowa CAFÉ (Community Agriculture and Food Enterprises)" as a theme that included community building and food and which provided numerous creative possibilities. As we explained in the welcome to the training manual and described verbally at he start of the workshops:

Dear friend,

Welcome to the Iowa CAFÉ, we hope you enjoy your time in our cozy little place! Can we get you a cup of coffee?

Okay, okay, we know it's not a real cafe, but cut us a little slack for a day while we pretend a little! We call these workshops Iowa CAFÉ for several reasons:

In the first place we want to create a different kind of professional training workshop, one that is fun, engaging, and thought provoking as well as informative and useful. We want the participants not to mention the trainers to leave feeling energized rather than drained. The Café idea provided us with a theme that we could use to make the workshops a little more fun and lively. We also figure if you're relaxed you're going to learn more too.

Secondly, we all know the most interesting and perhaps important conversations happen in Iowa over a cup of Joe at the local coffee shop, rather than at formal meetings or workshops. And we also know agriculture is one of the most common topics of conversation. Having recognized this, we decided to try and make our workshops a place where people could let their hair down and talk honestly about the important stuff. We don't all have to agree, but lets at least have a good conversation about the future of agriculture.

Then, there is the food and community thing. Cafés are about food and community: one reason the conversation is so good is because the food and company is so good. Since these workshops are not just about agriculture but also about food and community, the Café theme seemed a natural.

Finally we realized we could make a great acronym from CAFÉ, namely:

Community Agriculture and Food Enterprises.

What exactly is a Community, Agriculture and Food Enterprise? We trust you'll know the answer to that question after spending a day in the Iowa CAFÉ.

So sit back and relax and let us know if we can bring you anything!

Workshop Design

Many challenges faced us in the actual design of the workshop program. While we wanted the workshop to be fresh and novel, we also wanted them to relevant, practical, credible and useful. In other words, it's no good being too far out of the box if the people you are talking to are pretty deep in the box! We settled on a workshop design that included both traditional and innovative elements.

Perhaps the most innovative element involved the set up of the room of each workshop, which was designed to look like a traditional cafe with red, and white checked table clothes and samples of Iowa grown foods on the tables. Through this the participants knew immediately that this was going to be something different and perhaps even something fun.

A second and related challenge involved the diverse audience that we wanted to attend. How would we ever address the diverse needs of these different people? For example, we know that one type of participant would be eager to learn how to get actively involved in some type of "community agriculture and food enterprise" while another type of participant would view themselves as simply an information provider, who wanted to new resources to be able to assist their clients. This particular problem was resolved by dividing up the group into two tracks in the afternoon session so that we could better address these different needs.

Below is breakdown of the workshop design with some comments related to each activity:


9 to 9:45 am: Introductions and Preview of Day

Each person introduced themselves by saying their name and giving us their "order" which was what they hoped to get out of the day. We wrote their "order" on a sticky note and put them on flip chart paper so we could review them at the end of the day. This activity worked well but some felt it took too long.

9:45 to 11:00 am: Current Reality Food System Time Travel Exercise followed by discussions

This popular exercise involved giving each table one or two decades from the last 70 years to research. Each table had to describe some of the key characteristics of the food system in these decades, including: production systems and conservation practices, food distribution and processing, consumption trends, culture and community. Each group's work was summarized on a series of flip chart pages, which were placed together in the front of the room and the then the major trends were looked at and discussed. This session closed with the drawing of a sun on the horizon and a rhetorical question for the group to think about is the sun rising or setting on Iowa agriculture? Thee beauty of this exercise was they way it draw on the participants' indigenous knowledge and allowed to see for themselves the changes in the food systems rather than simply being told about it.

11:00 to 11:10 am: 10 minute break

11:10 am to 11:50 pm: Compelling Vision for Iowa's Ag. Future, using slides, data, and discussion

The section involved a slide show that highlighted the many exciting efforts going on in Iowa related to local food systems, from farmers markets, to institutional buving projects, to urban gardening and CSAs. Many participants were surprised to learn of just how much was going on it Iowa on these fronts.

11:50 am to 12:15: Challenges facing Community Food System Efforts in Iowa

This participatory session involved having the group help us identify some of the key challenges facing community food system work in Iowa. The group's list was supplemented by a list developed by the project team. (See manual for this list.) This was an effort to ground the vision back in the day to day challenges and to help the group begin to see where they might play a role in supporting these efforts.

12:15 to 1:30 pm: Local Foods Lunch and local or in state speaker

The lunch featured good from local farmers and a presentation by a farmer or organizer from the local area involved a local food system effort.

1:30 to 2:30 pm: Food System Mapping or Open Discussion of themes from the morning.

This was the hardest part of the day to program. In the first few workshops we attempted to do a food system mapping exercise, focusing on the particular region where the workshop was located. This exercise was hard difficult due to (a) the lack of time, (b) the time slot after lunch, and (c) the fact that people had already had to digest a lot of new information in the morning. In the last three workshops we decided instead to sue this time for an open discussion of the theme from the morning. Even this proved challenging, however, with such a diverse group.

2:30 to 2:40 pm: 10 minute Break

2:40 to 4 pm: At this juncture participants self selected into one of two tracks after we give a brief overview of the tracks and what would happen in each session:
Track A. Project Organizers
Here the focus will be on identifying needs, assets and partners in their region or community, developing action plans and discussing current issues and resources in food systems organizing. Local producers and project organizers will help ground and inform this session. A brief review of the manual will also take place but it will not be the focus of the session.
Track B. Information Networkers
Here the focus will be an in depth session on getting to know and learning to use the manual, and in general raising the awareness and knowledge level of the participants in relation to food systems. Some local producers will also be in this session to help ground the discussion.

Track A. Project Organizers This track was designed using a kind of open space technology approach. In the beginning participants identified the type of projects that they were involved in or interested in being involved in. In addition, project team members and invited producers and organizers described expertise that they could share. These later folks were then spread around the room at different tables. During the next hour and half participants were free to roam around and gather whatever support or knowledge they were seeking. Sometime new groups formed that were not planned.

Track B. Information Networkers This track involved several activities:
• A discussion of the kind of questions and needs people have been encountering across the state;
• An overview of the manual, and the way it was designed;
• Some role playing exercises in which different kinds of clients come to an office seeking information;
• And a brainstorming exercise in which the participants identified other, more local resources such as farmers they knew in their areas who could be helpful in addressing client questions.

4 to 4:30 pm: The two groups come back together for brief sharing of notes and closing thoughts.

At this time we reviewed the "orders" people gave at the beginning and asked if these needs were "satisfied." Some people found it awkward responding to this question.

4:30 to 5 pm: This was a time for filling out evaluations and informal networking.

Evaluation Methods

A written workshop evaluation was collected at each of the five workshops (see manual). A total of 156 respondents filled out at least part of the written evaluation form. The workshop sessions and workshop outcomes were rated on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being of little or no value and 5 being of great value. The likelihood that participants would follow up with action steps formulated in the workshops and make use of the Iowa CAFÉ manual was rated on a scale of 1-3 (1 being lowest, 3 the highest likelihood). These evaluation results were tabulated, statistically analyzed, and all written comments were grouped and recorded.

A follow up email evaluation was also conducted six months after the Iowa CAFÉ workshops. This follow up evaluation was done in order to begin to determine more of the long term impacts of the Iowa CAFÉ Workshops. Twenty five participants from the following categories were sent the follow up email evaluation: NRCS, CES, Farmers, Organizations, and Out of State Participants. Thirteen participants (at least 2 and up to 4 for each category) completed the follow up evaluation.

Finally, an evaluation was conducted with members of the Iowa CAFÉ project team both in person and over email.

Outreach and Publications

One of the most popular and widely acclaimed aspects of the Iowa CAFÉ effort was the Iowa CAFÉ training manual, which brought together a wide range of heretofore disparate information on local food systems in Iowa. Many of the evaluation comments suggest the manual design was found to be useful and easy to use and that it is still in active use across the state.

In addition, as hoped, the CAFÉ workshops and training manual appear to have created a model for work in other states. Aspects of the training have already been adapted to efforts in Minnesota, and several other out of state participants, including those attendees from Illinois and Kansas, have begun to implement similar events in their states based upon the same model.

Outcomes and impacts:

Attached is a summary of both the written and follow up evaluation results. Overall, the workshop was received very positively. On the written evaluation the lowest overall mean was 3.22 and the highest was 4.36. Examples of characteristically positive remarks were as follow:

"The workshop has had an impact on the way I dream about the future of our farm, in that I have more reason to hope that there is increased interest is local food and in developing an infrastructure to make that happen."

"The workshops were valuable because we must continue to look for ways to diversify Agriculture."

"This was an excellent workshop and gave me the opportunity to network and learn more about farmers markets. Thank you!!"

"Great job! I really liked the café format/theme"

"Long drive (9 1/2 hours one way.) _Time well spent."

"Great Diversity of Participants! Education and public awareness of new market & the story and quality that go along with ag production."

"Thank you for your talents and experience and your organization of this network of passionate individuals that are willing to share"

"The workshop was very positive, especially in making connections between people working toward the same goals w/different projects in different parts of the state."

"It was informative, and a great way to see meet others who obviously care about "real" issues and not just a quick buck. I had no idea that any of this existed to this level."

"As a result of this workshop, I was able to facilitate interest in my state in local food systems. We have written three grant requests to stimulate work on aspects of local food systems and are currently working on a project that will assist producers who direct market make connections with consumers."

"I have an increased interest in doing what I can to be involved in agriculture. Without an ag background, I have had limited ways of being involved but Iowa CAFÉ allows me to channel some of my abilities on a smaller scale and yet effectively."

In general, the workshops were slightly better received by non profit employees, farmers and church representatives, than they were by Extension and NRCS employees. This result seems to be correlated to two factors, one was the participants relative familiarity with subject matter prior to attending the workshop, and the second was the degree to which the participant felt that their job provided scope for implementing the concepts learned at the workshop. As one NRCS employee put it: "In my present position I have not had the opportunity to use the information. I agree with these concepts. I struggle with implementing them in today's world." This was a common sentiment expressed by NRCS employees and by some Extension employees, one of whom for example, stated "The workshop was fine. The frustration is in implementing the ideas." Another NRCS employee felt the concepts, while true, were in too great a conflict with current agribusiness practices: "Certainly farmers must know by now that making exports has not served them well. As true as it is, few listen, it is such a conflict with the business world."

It should also be pointed out that NRCS employees were the only participants mandated to attend by their organization and this also seemed to have a negative impact on some of their perceptions. As one NRCS employee stated: "Topic is somewhat interesting, but I haven't had any requests for assistance on those issues. I wish this meeting would have been more voluntary in attendance." Nonetheless, some NRCS employees do appear to have been positively impacted, such as the one who stated. "Finding ways to assist the smaller producer is now more in the forefront of my mind." Or another who said. "As a resource person hard for me to justify an entire day to this, but I see the picture in a bigger way."

While the issue of implementation was a challenge for some, follow up evaluations suggest that many participants have undertaken new efforts as a result of the workshops. These efforts include:

• Organizing an "all-Iowa" meal;
• Sharing information from the workshop with the Extension Council
• Writing a grant to start a new project
• Discussing direct marketing and community food systems with a "Value Added Ag committee"
• Inviting a farmer from the workshop to speak to a community college class on direct marketing
• Buying more locally grown food

One of the particularly positive and somewhat unexpected results, however, appears to be the fostering of better relations between farmers and agency (Extension and NRCS) staff. Many agency staff expressed appreciation for the opportunity to interact directly with farmers working on these issues. Comments like the following were common regarding the lunch presentation by local farmers:

• "Good at showing real life manifestation of problems surrounding community/local food"
• "Glad to hear about their farm, would like to hear more from people that are doing this stuff"
• "Nice to get producer perspective"

Likewise, many farmers expressed awe and relief to see their local agency staff present and actively participating at such a workshop. As one farmer put it: "This was not the usual chorus you were speaking to. I never thought these type of folks would come and be so open to all this."

While this suggests that the diversity of the participants at these workshops had some positive results, the written evaluation forms also point up some real challenges with designing a workshop for such a diverse group. For example, many of the workshop components called forth opposite responses in the participants. For example, the open space technology format used in the afternoon for the projects organizers was frustrating for a cross section of people who seemed to want a more directive session that drew on the expertise of a few of the project team members. As one characteristic participant put it: "I expected more helpful hints from organizers. Feed me with info rather than projects asking more questions." Another cross section of participants, however, found these same sessions to be extremely useful.

Likewise with many other workshops components: one subset of participants would find something very helpful, while another could find the same activity less then useful. While we have not been able to determine the exact correlates for these various responses, we can safely assume they are the result of the various expectations generated by such a diverse audience, with such differing levels of prior knowledge on the subject. One participant for example, said: "Systems view is big - it was a lot for "beginners" to grasp in a 1 day workshop. How to get a toehold wasn't always obvious or easy."

For most, the evaluation results suggest that while one or more components of the day may have been frustrating, the majority found the event as a whole a worthwhile use of their time and an important activity to have going on in the state. One such thoughtful participant said: "At first it seemed mainly for growers but "no man is an island." Eventually the workshop came a full circle to include many things - thank you."

Project Outcomes


Potential Contributions

It would appear that the Iowa CAFÉ workshops have raised the awareness among a wide range of agricultural professionals and community stakeholders of local food system efforts in Iowa and the needs and challenges that farmers and communities face in implanting these endeavors. Follow up evaluations suggest that these professionals are making use of the information and resources they gathered at the workshops and even in some cases following up on contacts made at the workshops. In addition, the Iowa CAFÉ training has been in high demand since the close of the workshops. Whether or not this will result in a stronger local food system movement in Iowa remains to be seen.

Perhaps one of the interesting trends to note since the workshops, is the increasing interest in Iowa in finding ways to help more traditional, mid-size producers take advantage of the new consumer trends in the same way many smaller, specialty producers have through the local food systems movement. Many new efforts are underway in the state just in the last 6 months to create new "value chains" or "structured supply networks" to market organic and humanely raised pork, poultry, and dairy, for example, to consumers both in and out of state. It is now widely felt among many sustainable agriculture groups in the state that the lessons learned in the local food systems movement in the state now need to be applied to helping Iowa's more traditional producers survive the increasing consolidation of agriculture.

This work with the mid-sized producers appears to be providing a new middle ground for collaboration among groups that have heretofore not been able to see eye to eye. A recent meeting of a newly formed Pork Niche Marketing Working Group, for example, brought together as active partners such groups as Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Leopold Center of Sustainable Agriculture, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Pork Producers Association, ISU Extension, the Greater Des Moines Partnership (Chamber of Commerce), and Sysco Food Service Corporation.

While this trend cannot be attributed directly to the Iowa CAFÉ workshops, it is a fact that these are some of the same groups that began to explore working together in and through the Iowa CAFÉ workshops. In fact, the organizers of the Iowa CAFÉ tend to look back and see the workshops and manual as representing a culmination of five years of local food systems organizing in the state. We feel the Iowa CAFÉ has set the stage for a new round of efforts that promise to address some of the very concerns expressed by some of the most "cautious" participants at the CAFÉ workshops, namely those NRCS and Extension employees who asked, in so many words: "but how can these ideas be implemented on a wider scale in the face of current agribusiness trends?"

While the coming years will determine whether this question can be answered, the diversity of participants at the Iowa CAFÉ workshops and the enthusiasm they generated give us hope that we have begun to bring the right people and the right partners together to roll up their sleeves and get to work on the issue.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.