Expanding local markets through linking institutional food buyers to local farmers and processors in Northeast Iowa

Final Report for LNC00-166

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $43,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $34,000.00
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Kamyar Enshayan
University of Northern Iowa
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Project Information

Summary:

We have developed an internship program where interns work as assistants to food service managers of participating institutions. The interns identified nearby farmers and processors and assisted the institutions in buying a greater portion of their food from local/regional sources. During 2001 and 2002, nine interns and the project coordinator worked with 12 institutions in northeast Iowa. We documented what each institutions purchased locally and the amount of money they spent on local food dollars. During the two years of this project, the participating restaurants and institutions purchased more than $367,000 in locally grown fruit, vegetables and meats from farmers and processors near them. We intensified the publicity about the accomplishments of these institutions in our region and the entire practice of strengthening the local food economy by choosing to support nearby farmers and processors.

Project Objectives:
  1. 1. Work with several northeast Iowa hospitals, nursing homes, and other large food buyers so that they buy a greater portion of their food purchases from local farmers and processors.

    2. Develop an internship program where trained interns will be placed in participating institutions to be of assistance to the food service staff in establishing a local food buying process.

    3. Continue to develop a clearer understanding of the barriers to and opportunities for a variety of institutions to buy a greater portion of their food locally, and disseminate the lessons learned widely among farmers, processors and institutional food buyers.

Research

Materials and methods:

The general hypothesis is that in order to jump-start institutions so that they buy more locally grown food, we need to make it easy for them and work with them for a few years so that they become familiar with local resources. Student interns, familiar and motivated to assist these participating institutions, were the key to this process.

In 2001, we worked with nine institutions: four hospitals, three colleges, one retirement home and one restaurant. These institutions had indicated willingness to purchase some local food. Some of them had purchased local food in prior years as well. In 2002, we worked with one hospital, two retirement homes, two restaurants, one college and one grocery store.

Student interns were hired to help each institution identify farmers near them and to place orders with the farmers on a weekly basis. We began 2001 with six interns and in 2002 we had three interns. They came from a variety of colleges in Iowa and Minnesota. Their training involved reading and site visits to several types of farms, processors, restaurants, and institutional buyers.

During the season, each intern was assigned to one or two institutions. On a weekly basis, we developed a “produce availability sheet” that was either faxed or e-mailed to the interested institutional buyers. The sheet included farmers names and phone numbers, items they had, and price. The food buyers then placed their orders with farmers and farmers delivered on specified dates.

The interns made sure the process was smooth, and they helped develop promotional items for each institution’s effort in local purchasing and in some cases staged special events. During January and February of each year, the interns and other project staff went through the records of participating institutions to document local food purchases.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1: During 2002, we worked with seven institutions. For two of them, this was the first season; the rest had worked with us before. We have also involved more farmers and processors as a result of this SARE grant. At least three more farmers are selling to these institutions. Bartels Lutheran Home (in Waverly, IA) now buys two cows a month from their local meat locker. University of Northern Iowa staged two all-campus events featuring all-Iowa meals. All participating institutions made some local purchases.

In 2002, seven institutions purchased $200,000 of locally grown and processed food. These items were grown within a 100-mile radius of our metro area.

Five of these institutions have increased their purchases compared to the prior year. Here are a few notes:

Allen Hospital was doing great until they out-sourced the entire kitchen to a national labor chain. This shows that there will be ups and downs, people come and go, committed food service managers will be replaced with less committed ones, etc.

Rudy’s Tacos remains at the high end of the percentage of local food purchases. Rudy’s is not a “high end” restaurant – it is an ordinary place, with a solid and diverse customer base as well as a smoking section! It is the commitment of the owner to provide quality food to his customers.

University of Northern Iowa Dining Services, after a period of kitchen remodeling, is back on track. Two major all-Iowa meals were served during 2002 and UNI purchased their first whole cow from local inspected lockers.

Bartels Lutheran Home dramatically expanded their local food purchases in all areas. The staff are highly committed to this process.

Western Home, Roots Market (a small grocery store) and Garfield Café were all first time participants and made some local food purchases. They are committed to doing more.

The remaining institutions on our list did not place orders, and as best as we have determined, simply have not made it a priority to buy locally grown items.

Objective 2: The system of student intern assistants to the food buyers seems to work well – if you have a pool of such students.

In 2001, we worked with nine institutions: four hospitals, three colleges, one retirement home and one restaurant. These institutions had indicated willingness to purchase some local food. Some of them had purchased local food in prior years as well. In 2002, we worked with one hospital, two retirement homes, two restaurants, one college and one grocery store.

Student interns were hired to help each institution identify farmers near them and to place orders with the farmers on a weekly basis. We began 2001 with six interns and in 2002 we had three interns. They came from a variety of colleges in Iowa and Minnesota. Their training involved reading and site visits to several types of farms, processors, restaurants, and institutional buyers.

For 2002, we hired three interns who each performed a wide variety of tasks: developing weekly produce availability lists and faxing or e-mailing the lists to food buyers, publicizing this project within each institution, taking photos featuring many local farmers, assisting in planning all-Iowa meals in various institutions, and keeping purchasing records.

During the season, each intern was assigned to one or two institutions. On a weekly basis, we developed a “produce availability sheet” that was either faxed or e-mailed to the interested institutional buyers. The sheet included farmers names and phone numbers, items they had, and price. The food buyers then placed their orders with farmers and farmers delivered on specified dates.

The interns made sure the process was smooth, and they helped to develop promotional items such as posters and table tents for each institution’s effort in local purchasing. In some cases, the interns staged special events. One intern developed a series of photographs of many of the farmers we work with. These photos were used in posters, table tents and other publicity pieces. During January and February of each year, the interns and other project staff went through the records of participating institutions to document local food purchases.

Objective 3: Project staff are in frequent communication with food buyers and farmers to make the changes needed to make the local buying process work. Commitment of the food service staff to the idea of local food is essential. From our experience, the greatest success has been in institutions with the most interest and commitment. Other challenges include distributor contracts, insurance, limited local supplies of fruit and vegetables, limited processing infrastructure, and the culture of pre-processed food. We documented our experiences with these and many other considerations. We continue to share our findings at local, state and national meetings, conferences, and in newsletters. We have developed a web site that includes much of our findings: www.uni.edu/ceee/foodproject.

We are well-connected to the national network of others doing similar work in other regions. Some recent invited presentations include Land Stewardship Project, MN; The Land Institute, KS; UNI Dining Services, Cedar Falls IA; Iowa Food Policy Council conference, IA; Northern Arizona University, AZ. Project staff have been collaborating with ISU Extension and local farms in exploring possibilities for freezing selected fruit and vegetables for later sales. We are also aiding Iowa’s Governor in developing a plan to help Iowa’s state institutions buy more of their food locally.

Other collaborative initiatives that have resulted from this SARE grant include: Working with ISU Extension on food systems development through their SARE PDP grants; we are working closely with Practical Farmers of Iowa in launching a “Buy Local Campaign” in northeast Iowa based the accomplishments of our SARE grant.

Research conclusions:

In 2001, the nine institutions we worked with purchased $166,438 of locally grown food items. In 2002, seven institutions purchased $200,731 of locally grown items. These food dollars, which otherwise would leave our region, are now invested in local farms, meat lockers and other local businesses.

This has lead to a major new initiative in collaboration with the Practical Farmers of Iowa and with support from the Food Routes Network. The “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign will highlight local food in northeast Iowa and will help consumers locate it. The campaign will begin in May 2003.

In the process of developing local financial support for the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign, we approached our county government and our city government. Each contributed $5,000 towards the upcoming campaign. This suggests that local governments can be generally supportive of sustainable agriculture efforts if they are approached and presented with evidence that local agriculture is important to local economy and local life.

Farmers and institutional buyers we have worked with are very pleased with the work we have been doing.

Farmer Adoption

We did not track farmer adoption. However, I know of several farmers who are expanding their operations to meet local markets. Also, we have helped a few farmers attend workshops on sustainable vegetable production and business planning.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We developed a web site that includes key lessons we are learning: www.uni.edu/ceee/foodproject

Market to Market, a PBS program that is carried in 26 states ran a story about our work in November 2002 and again in March 2003. It featured the farmers, several food buyers, and how the whole program works.

Pirog, R., T. Van Pelt, K. Enshayan, and E. Cook. 2001. Food, Fuel and Freeways: An Iowa Perspective on how far food travels, fuel usage, and greenhouse gas emissions. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Ames, Iowa.

SARE PDP collaboration with Practical Farmers of Iowa. Findings of our project will help a SARE funded PDP project to develop training material for “Training for New Food and Farming Ventures: Iowa CAFÉ part II” and Kamyar Enshayan is on the planning team.

A commentary by Kamyar Enshayan will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture.

Kamyar Enshayan has presented this work and results to numerous audiences in the Midwest and elsewhere. Here is a partial list of presentations:

March 12, 2000. Minnesota Food Association Annual Meeting. Keynote speaker.

March 18, 2000. Guiding Entrepreneurs to Success. Jefferson City, MO. Presented a workshop.

April 27, 2000. Boyers Colloquim, Highland Community College, Freeport, Il. Keynote address.

Sept 22, 2000 9th annual urban-rural conference, East Troy, WI.

October 5, 2000 Berea College, KY. Seminar presentation, and consultation with college administration.

Jan 17, 2001, Mankato, MN. Visited with School Sisters of Notre Dame officials and dining service staff who wanted to learn about institutional purchasing of local food.

Feb 15, 2001, Grinnell College, Iowa. Participated as part of panel on “Revitalizing Family Farms and Rural Communities”.

Sept 17, 2001. Waterloo, IA. Presented the project to the Waterloo Rotary International.

November 9-10, 2001. Oberlin College, Ohio. Keynote address, Farm to College Conference.

Jan 25, 2002. 7th annual Iowa Local Food System Conference. Presented a workshop.

March 20, 2002, Flagstaff, AZ. Sustainable Harvest Lecture Series. Northern Arizona University.

April 4, 2002, Iowa State University. A forum on locally grown foods at university campuses.

Sept. 21, 2002, Prairie Festival speaker, The Land Institute.

Feb 8, 2003, keynote talk at the SE Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association Annual Meeting.

Feb 19, 2003, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Putting Your Farm on the Menu, a workshop sponsored by the Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Documenting value chains for local markets. That is, we need many well-documented cases of specific local marketing systems and their multiple benefits (if any) to a variety of stakeholders.

Pesticides residue studies. It would be nice to do well-designed studies of pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables for grocery stores vs. local markets (local produce is not usually treated with post harvest pesticides, for example).

Antibiotic residue studies. It would be nice to compare meats from local lockers, or directly from farmers vs. the grocery store meat to see if there are significant differences.

Food safety studies of small meat lockers vs. larger plants. This needs to be documented. How many times have there been meat recalls from the local lockers?

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.