Expanding local markets through linking institutional food buyers to local farmers and processors in Northeast Iowa
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 2002, three interns and a project coordinator worked with ten institutions in Northeast Iowa. We documented what each institutions purchased locally and total local food dollars. We intensified the publicity about the accomplishments of these institutions and the entire practice of strengthening the local food economy by choosing to support nearby farmers and processors.
1. To 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.
Objective 1: During 2002, we worked with ten institutions. All but two 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, Iowa) 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, and we do not have all of the data assembled at this time yet for the 2002 season.
Objective 2: The system of using student interns as assistants to the food buyers during the summer seems to work well, as long as there is a pool of such students. For 2002, we hired three interns who each did a wide variety of tasks: gathering weekly produce availability list and fax or e-mailing it to the food buyers; publicizing this project within each institution; photography project featuring many local farmers; assisting in planning all-Iowa meals in various institutions; and keeping track of purchasing records. Assessment of intern effectiveness and feedback for internship program improvements needs to be 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. Commitment of the food service staff to the idea of local food is essential. From our experience, efforts are most successful in institutions that have the most interest and commitment. Other challenges include 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 the national network of others doing similar work in other regions. Some recent invited presentations include Land Stewardship Project, Minnesota, The Land Institute, Kansas, University of Northern Iowa, Dining Services staff, Iowa, Iowa Food Policy Council conference, Iowa, Northern Arizona University, Arizona, Local Food Conference. 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 to 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 on the accomplishments of our SARE grant.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We have not assembled the 2002 data yet, they should be complete by the time the final report is due on January 15, 2002. We estimate that the 2002 numbers will be slightly higher than 2001, where the institutions we worked with invested nearly $166,438 dollars locally.
Market to Market, a PBS program picked up in 26 states, is running a story about our work.
The most important outcome has been the birth of a “Buy Locally Grown” initiative–-a strong marketing campaign to be piloted in 2003 in northeast Iowa and later expanded to other metro areas in Iowa. The campaign is a project of Practical Farmers of Iowa, in collaboration with the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at University of Northern Iowa.