Expanding local markets through linking institutional food buyers to local farmers and processors in Northeast Iowa
We have developed an internship program in which interns work as assistants to food service managers of participating institutions. We started the season with a four-day training workshop and field trips with the interns. The interns identified nearby farmers and processors, and assisted the institutions in buying a greater portion of their food from local/regional sources. We documented what each institution purchased locally and total local food dollars.
1. To work with several Northeast Iowa hospital nursing homes and other large food buyers so that they buy a greater portion of their food from local farmers and processors.
2. Develop an internship program in which 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 among farmers, processors, and institutional food buyers.
Objective 1: During 2001, we worked with 10 institutions:
Allen Memorial Hospital
Covenant Medical Center
Mercy Medical Center
Waverly Memorial Hospital
Bartels Lutheran Home
University of Northern Iowa
School Sisters of Notre Dame
This was the first season for five of the institutions, the second season for two institutions, and three of them had worked with us for four years. As a result of this SARE grant, we have involved more institutions and more farmers and processors and we intend to reach even more buyers, farmers and processors. All participating institutions made some local purchases, and we do not have all of the data assembled at this time for the 2001 season.
Objective 2: The 2001 season was the first year of a formal internship program. The interns attended a four-day training program, involving presentations, discussions, and field trips. Six interns (from the University of Northern Iowa, Grinnell College, Iowa State University, and the College of St. Benedict, MN) worked at four hospitals, three colleges, and two retirement communities. The interns assisted the food service staff in placing orders with nearby farmers and processors. The interns also helped publicize the project kept records. The assessment of intern effectiveness and the feedback for internship program improvements is not completed.
Objective 3: Project staff are in frequent communication with food buyers and farmers to make small changes to make the local buying process work. The food service staff’s commitment to the idea of local food is essential. We have found the most success in institutions with the most interest and commitment. We have found challenges in distributor contracts, insurance, low local supplies, limited processing infrastructure, and the culture of pre-processed food. We document our experiences with these and many other considerations. We continue to share our findings at local, state, and national meetings, conferences, and newsletters. We have developed a web site that includes much of our findings: www.uni.edu/ceee/foodproject.
We are well-connected to a national network of others doing similar work in other regions. We have recently been invited to give presentations at Berea College, KY, Oberlin College, OH, Northern Arizona University, AZ, Highland Community College, IL, and have given numerous presentations within Iowa through Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Iowa Network for Community Agriculture. Project staff have been collaborating with ISU Extension and local farms in exploring the possibilities of 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 to buy more of their food locally. Much of this needs to be written up and we are in the process of doing that. This coming season, after meetings with food buyers and farmers, we will try a web-based local food purchasing process among the collaborators.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
1. Based on our preliminary estimates for 2001, the institutions we worked with invested nearly $150,000 dollars locally. We expect to see this number increase because five of the institutions were new to this process and are likely to increase their commitment and local purchases.
2. Ten of the farmers who participated in an interview rated their satisfaction with our project as 4.7 on a scale of 0-5 (average of ten farmers).
3. Our work is inspiring many others in Iowa and around the country. Several institutions specifically invited me to come speak to the food service staff of their institutions who were ready to start a local buying process (Berea College, Oberlin College, and the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, MN).
4. We have begun an internship program in Northeast Iowa that will evolve as the program develops. The program provides training and experiential learning opportunities for college students while they learn about food and agriculture.
5. Since I am on the Iowa Governer’s Food Policy Council, our institutional buying project is influencing the development of state policies that could encourage state institutions to purchase a greater portion of their food from local/regional farms and processors.