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


    A group of North Iowa local food producers will weave lessons from established producer collaborative marketing networks into a hydrid model that explores both wholesale and direct to consumer marketing models that can gain traction in the culture and infrastructure of North Central Iowa. Our work will focus on marketing the message and the product.


    Farmers markets serve as the frontline for local produce in North Iowa. However, given North Iowa's demographics and widely disbursed population, few of the farmers markets are what we would describe as "robust". Other market outlets include a few CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms, a number of regular farm stands, a couple of You Pick businesses, just a few producers with a good foothold in grocers, and virtually none selling into restaurants at the beginning of this project.

    Healthy Harvest of North Iowa, a non profit focused on local food system development, began in 2012 to introduce the idea of collaborative marketing and discovered quite a bit of interest. Wholesale venues are beginning to increase interest and receptivity to local food, but there are a number of issues that need development before the connections can be made - including organization among producers and development of a protocol for a broker to serve as the single point of contact. Food buyers have been interviewed about this format and have responded very favorably.

    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

     We also will focus some of the resources on marketing the message, working on social media skills and assets and some farm fresh event such as farm tours and farm to fork dinners.

    Project objectives:

    In the project's first year, 2013, we proposed to focus on organizational development and initial marketing. Our targets included:

    • Involvement of 5-7 producers
    • Involvement with 2 wholesale accounts
    • Development of operating protocols
    • Identification of an ordering system to meet our needs
    • Holding 2 Summer on-farm events
    • Generation of $4,400 gross sales through wholesale of $3,500 and a Holiday package of $900

    In 2014, we proposed to increase producer involvement to

    • 7-10 producers
    • 2-3 wholesale accounts
    • 2 direct to consumer pilots (using an online system)
    • Continue Summer on-farm events
    • Hold a Meet & Greet event
    • Have brokered sales

    By 2015, we

    • refined our market model to only wholesale
    • developed a crop planning process
    • recruited a non-producer broker
    • began development of a 5-year business plan
    • recruited 2 new producers for a total of 8 full member producers in North Iowa Fresh, LLC
    • added 3 new accounts for a total of 6 (3 grocers, 3 restaurants)
    • applied for a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant

    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.