Iowa Network for Community Agriculture: Forming a Network to Support Producer Initiatives for Local Food Systems

Final Report for FNC96-138

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1996: $9,850.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The purpose of this project was to form an organization to promote and support the development of local food projects in Iowa. That organization has become know as the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture (INCA).

The vision for this project grew out of the first Iowa Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) workshop held in January 1996. Iowa’s CSAs numbered five at the time of this workshop. Prior to this event there was minimal networking of CSA growers in Iowa. Seeing a need for continued networking, a group of workshop participants developed and submitted the SARE proposal that led to this grant.

Our goals, as listed in the grant include:
- Creating a Board of CSA growers
- Identifying an Advisory Board
- Sponsoring education/outreach to include an annual workshop and field days
- Facilitating communication between growers
- Distributing practical information to growers and organizers

The process of developing this project has included identifying priorities through planning meetings, organizing program events, offering outreach information, and establishing organizational infrastructure.
- Identifying priorities – Planning meetings were held October 1996, February 1997, and February 1998. These were intentionally designed and facilitated to assess needs and appropriate ways to meet those needs. The style of these meetings helped to set the organization values of whole group and consensus approach.
- Organizing program – One of the first program priorities identified in October 1996 was to hold a winter workshop. That workshop, held in December 1996, included a roundtable discussion, a keynote address, several workshop sessions, and the first business meeting of this new organization.

Other events that followed include: Summer Field Days 1997 & 1998, Fall Field Day 1997, Research and Education Field Days – 1998, Local Food System Conference & INCA Annual Meetings – December 1997, January 1999.

- Outreach information – A newsletter was initiated during the summer of 1997 and continues. Six issues have been produced to date. INCA was represented by both the Education Coordinator and volunteer leadership at a number of local food system-related conferences and workshops. The presence of the organization was important to further INCA’s role as a networking organization. A Community Agriculture booth was organized for the 1998 Iowa State Fair as a way to spread the word about local food projects across Iowa. Audubon Family Farms and INCA co-sponsored the project and organized representatives from 15 different groups to staff the booth throughout the 10 days of the fair.
- Establishing organizational infrastructure
o Central leadership – An initial steering committee took charge in October 1996. The steering committee evolved into a Board of Directors at the December 1997 INCA 2nd Annual Business meeting. This leadership core has continued to guide the direction of the organization with great commitment.
o Committees – The February 1997 planning meeting identified the need for four committees: Internal Education, Outreach Education, Publications, and Organizational Development. Committees were filled in 1997 and began identifying their tasks and timetables. In 1999, the four committees continue and have regularly scheduled meetings.
o Staff – A part time (1/4 time) Education Coordinator was retained, on a contract basis, in January 1997. The Education Coordinator role has involved responding to numerous contacts requesting information on access to CSAs, starting a CSA, and other networking inquiries. The Education Coordinator job, as supported through this grant, ended summer 1998. A part time (1/8 time) information Coordinator is now supported through membership fees. Al other work is accomplished through volunteer and in kind contributions.

Because INCA is a network, the list of people that have been involved is extensive. The list that follows attempts to categorize active participants based on level of involvement.

1999 INCA Board of Directors:
- Chair – Hay Robinson, CSA member and organizer
- Vice-Chair – Patti McKee, future CSA grower
- Secretary – Jodi Bierschenk, Blueridge Gardens
- Treasurer – Gary Guthrie, Growing Harmony Farm

Committee Chairs:
- Internal Education – Gary Guthrie, Growing Harmony Farm & Virginia Moser, Wildwoods CSA
- Outreach Education – Cheri Grau, Trees Forever
- Publications – Katie Monsen, ISU Student Organic Farm
- Organizational Development – Mary Swalla-Holmes, Iowa State University Extension each of the committees has 6-8 members.

Core Partners:
- Approximately 30 CSAs are expected to operate across Iowa in 1999, involving more than 40 farms
- 1999 INCA membership :65
- Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Field to Family Community Food Project – Robert Karp, Gary Huber, Co-Directors
- Sustainable Agriculture Extension – Iowa State University – Jerry Dewitt, Director
- National Catholic Rural Life Conference – Dr. David Andrews, Director
- Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture – Dennis Keeney, Director, Rich Pirog, Ed. Coordinator
- Practical Farmers of Iowa Research Network – Rick Exner, Director
- Wallace House Foundation – Kent Newman, Director
- Des Moines Community Garden Coalition – Teva Dawson, Coordinator
- Audubon County Family Farms – Donna Bauer, Coordinator
- Vision 2020 – Ann Schultz, Coordinator
- Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship – Mike Bevins, State Horticulturist
- Des Moines Downtown Partnership – Deb Burger, Coordinator
- USDA NRCS – Tanya Meyer, Statewide Outreach Coordinator

INCA has involved more than 60 community agriculture producers (i.e. CSA, farmers market, institutional sales, on farm sales). These producers are growing on acreages that range from 1 to 20 acres. They are all using natural based farming techniques. Between its own events, meetings INCA representatives attended, and outreach, INCA has served more than 2500 people with information about and experiences with local food system efforts in Iowa. INCA’s database number more than 400.

Summarizing INCA’s accomplishments highlights this project’s productivity and success:
- Six seasonal field days (summer and fall 1997 and summer 1998) have involved approximately 120 participants
- Three winter workshops (December 1996, 1997 and January 1999) have involved 400 participants
- Six newsletters (summer and fall 1997, winter and fall 1998, winter and spring 1999) have reached more than 1250 individuals
- INCA’s leadership has grown from a steering committee of four to a full board of eight (four elected officers and four committee representatives) as envisioned at the February 1997 planning meeting. The leadership has involved both growers and non growers
- Approximately 25 other INCA members are directly involved with INCA activities through committee work.
- Hundreds of inquiries about CSA and other local food and community agriculture issues have been fielded.
- INCA has helped facilitate the tremendous growth in CSAs over the time period of 1996-1998 seasons. Iowa CSAs numbered five in January 1996. During the 1999 season, Iowa CSAs are expected to number approximately 30, involving more than 40 farms.
- Relationships have been built with approximately 12 key Iowa organizations working on various aspects of community agriculture.

INCA’s impact has included:
- fostering collaboration between producers and organizations
- articulating a vision of community agriculture
- providing central leadership for Iowa’s local food movement.

The impact of increased local food projects is also reflected in local food dollars that have stayed at home. An estimation of local food dollars remaining at home due to 1999 CSA operations follows:

30 (CSAs) x 30 (average of full share members) x $300 (average share cost) = $270,000

Additional local produce purchased through CSAs (assumed $500/CSA on avg.) = $150,000

Total Local Food Dollars Remaining at Home = $420,000

During its first two years, INCA’s role evolved from meeting the needs of CSA growers to beginning to focus on the broader audience of growers and supporters of local food system efforts. During its first year, it was clear there was need for an organization to specifically address interest about local food production and marketing. The initial contacts INCA received indicated the lack of a resource center for local food issues. INCA’s development has helped fill that void.

The project goal to facilitate communication between growers has been a cornerstone for INCA. The development of the Board and the organizing of educational/outreach activities has provided opportunities for the growers and organizers to learn from and support each other. There is a very strong collaborative spirit in the community agriculture movement. INCA’s activities have provided an avenue for that spirit to manifest itself. This is not an easily measured accomplishment, but one very worth noting.

INCA began with enthusiasm from the CSA movement, but intentionally claimed “community agriculture” as its scope from the beginning. CSA leaders in other states have commented on the wisdom of this choice as they felt their own efforts with CSA were too limiting. Community agriculture goes beyond the CSA model and INCA recognized the potential for this branch of Iowa agriculture. INCA has been instrumental as the local food/community agriculture movement has matured in the state. As a networking center, INCA has been intentional about identifying and working with other partner organizations. And INCA intends to continue to be an active voice strengthening support for production and consumption of locally produced foods.

While the grower support will continue to be important, INCA’s role as a networking center will call for continued work in outreach education, policy development, and advocacy.

INCA will continue it’s outreach through these developments:
- Speaker’s Bureau – initiated Fall 1998
- INCA Directory – coming spring 1999
- Newsletter – four issues per year for paid member
- Summer and Fall event – scheduled for July 10, 1999 and November 13, 1999
- 5th Annual Iowa Local Food System Conference – scheduled for January 29, 2000

A number of resources have been used to tell others about INCA, including:
- An identity piece that articulates who INCA is
- Overview of INCA activities – a summary look at INCA’s accomplishments
- Newsletter – calendar of events and numerous updates on local food projects in Iowa
- News articles highlighting INCA as well as individual INCA members and partner organizations
- Informal conversations with partner organization to share updates of INCA’s activities. There are approximately 12 key organizations INCA tries to stay current with.
- Iowa State Fair brochure – introduction to community agriculture provided to more than 1000 booth visitors over the 10 days of the 1998 Iowa State Fair.
- Field Days – total Participation: 120
o Summer 1997 (attendance: 14) – held in conjunction with the Decorah, Iowa based Seed Savers Exchange Summer Campout event. Elliot Coleman was keynote speaker at this event. The gathering included an INCA business meeting. Also visited Friends End Community Support Floriculture operation.
o Fall 1997 (attendance: 6) – tour of three CSA’s in southeastern Minnesota. A report was provided as a resource for those unable to attend.
o Summer 1998 (attendance: 40) –
 Visit to Frontier Herbs in Norway, Iowa and INCA member, Larua Krouse’s Abbe Hills Farm in Mt. Vernon (attendance 20)
 Three research and education field days co-sponsored with Practical Farmers of Iowa summer 1998 (attendance 20)
- Annual Iowa Local Food System Conferences – total participation: 400
o December 1996 (attendance: 25) – the keynote was provided by Dan Guenthner, an experienced CSA grower from Wisconsin. INCA held it’s first business meeting, and the name, “Iowa Network for Community Agriculture” was formally adopted.
o December 1997 (attendance: 275) – INCA representatives were involved in the planning, workshop leadership, and facilitation of the conference. The lead organization for this event was the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), through its Field to Family Community Food Project. Iowa State Sustainable Agriculture Extension and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture joined INCA as sponsoring partners – financially and organizationally. Keynote speakers included Gail Feenstra, Food Systems Analyst and Nutritionist with University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Steve Stevenson, Assistant Director, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at University of Wisconsin, and Neil Hamilton, Professor of Agriculture, Drake University.

INCA’s second annual business meeting was held in conjunction with this December 1997 conference. The important business items that were addressed at this meeting include:
 mission statement development
 1998 work plan
 election of officers for INCA’s new Board of Directors
 Initiation of a membership structure
o January 1999 (attendance:100)


Participation Summary
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.