Exploring Collaboration Strategies in North Central Iowa

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $22,487.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Jan Libbey
One Step at a Time Gardens

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    We lack an organized structure among local food producers to grow their profit base in North Central Iowa.

    • The primary direct-to-consumer venue for local food remains farmers markets. While there are 17 farmers markets in North Central Iowa, they continue to underperform as a profitable market for serious local food producers.
    • Wholesale venues are beginning to increase interest and receptivity to local food, but producers are not organized to deliver orders through a single point of contact.

    We need to answer the question “How can we work together to effectively and profitably connect local food to the eaters in this rural landscape?”

    We believe local food system development is a central component of sustainable community development and community-based market development should be a first priority ahead of the temptation to seek opportunities through larger metropolitan centers. Local is where we feel we can make the strongest economic, environmental and social connections.

    This project proposes to pull strategies used by experienced collaborative groups into a new combination to meet our goal of increasing profit and access to local food in our rural communities. This collaboration will involve:

    • Organizing producers to plan targeted crop production based on identified market needs
    • Utilizing a central coordinator/broker to manage sales and manage communications
    • Using email (with phone follow up if needed) or online ordering

    The special emphasis of this project is to develop a collaborative strategy that can serve both:

    • wholesale accounts (grocers, restaurants, etc.) weekly through prime summer growing season
    • direct to consumer distribution hubs bi weekly during Year 2 summer and one special holiday market each year

    Meetings for this collaborative will start under the leadership of Healthy Harvest of North Iowa in December 2012 with an initial planning meeting among participating producers. Monthly meetings will begin January 2013 as participating producers move into the organizing process. These early stages of planning are possible thanks to in-kind contribution of producer time and my salary provided by a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant.

    This Farmer/Rancher grant is important on three critical points:

    • Having “set the stage” through its producer workshops, potlucks, Buy Fresh, Buy Local Food Guide, and successful all local dinner held November 14, 2012, Healthy Harvest of North Iowa looks to producer collaboration is a key next step in our local food system development work and it’s important to position the producers themselves to take that lead.
    • The 25-month grant period gives us two seasons to really try out our ideas with substantive evaluation in between.
    • The collaborative network will help serve as a catalyst for our overall increased local food capacity in North Iowa. Healthy Harvest sees producer collaboration as a first tangible step toward a larger, more complex goal of Food Hub development.

    We will learn so much during these first two years. As we lay the framework of this collaborative, we will be mindful to incorporate a producer fee structure that will begin to build both the practice and the funding base for continued sustainability. We see this project as a critical launching into more comprehensive system development of our regional food work. This winter we are cultivating local funding support for Healthy Harvest of North Iowa beyond the USDA grant that funds my Coordinator position (ending September 2013). We do rely on grants and anticipate producer fees, local funding, and grants will serve as a base to support the collaboration beyond 2014, and help assure enough stability for the collaboration to grow into its own capacity over the next 3-5 years.

    We are very excited to chart these new waters for North Iowa. Our experience will serve as research and demonstration to others about the capacity of rural communities to support increased access to and profit from local food production. We also expect to discover rich anecdotes of how this strategy will strengthen other community assets.

    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.