Editor’s Note: This story, submitted by Practical Farmers of Iowa, is a great followup to our story on Community Supported Agriculture in a recent paper. If you didn’t read that story, search for it online: www.nevadaiowajournal.com or www.tricountytimes.com.
Asparagus is standing tall, tomatoes are growing in high tunnels and potato plants are just starting to peek from the ground — all signs that it’s time again for local fruits and vegetables in Iowa. But despite growing demand for local foods, and increasing ways to access it, many consumers still struggle to act on their best intentions. For some, buying local doesn’t fit easily into their normal food purchasing and cooking routines.
If you think this describes you, you’re in luck – there are more ways than ever to access local foods in Iowa.
Find the Farmer First: Thanks to the internet and social media, finding and buying directly from local producers is easier than ever. To help connect consumers and producers, Practical Farmers of Iowa created a searchable directory of PFI-member farmers and organizations who market to consumers. Visit practicalfarmers.org/ local-foods. Regional local food coordinators based across Iowa can also help connect consumers to local food producers in their areas. Find yours at extension.iastate.edu/localfoods/where-is-our-work.
“We can’t wait to get our spring greens from Low Oaks Farm,” says Alice Topaloff, of Decorah. Alice found Low Oaks Farm at a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) fair, and decided to join.
Local food isn’t just found in bigger cities: Farmers who market to consumers can be found throughout the state. Adair County, for example, is home to Bridgewater Farm, which raises organic produce, livestock and eggs. Lisa Sawtelle, of Creston, is a fan: “I found Bridgewater Farm at my local farmers market four summers ago. I was drawn to them because they were a small, family-owned farm, and I like to support that.”
CSA and Other Boxes: Joining a CSA lets consumers support a farm by purchasing their “share” of vegetables at the beginning of the season, then receiving a weekly box throughout the summer. Lisa says her family likes being part of Bridgewater Farm’s CSA because they’ve not only helped support a local farmer, they have learned more about food too. “This will be our third year participating. We’ve found, as a family, that our palette widened when we began CSA,” Lisa says. ”We learned how to eat and prepare foods we had previously never even heard of.” Many farmers listed in Practical Farmers’ directory have CSA, or visit the CSA directory compiled by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Other farms do box programs that are distributed like a CSA share but are purchased weekly. For example, Harvestville Farm in Donnellson does an occasional box filled with products from their farm and other local farms and businesses. Each box has a theme: the BLT box includes tomatoes and lettuce from Harvestville Farm, and 1 pound of local bacon. The breakfast box includes 1 pound of sausage, a dozen eggs, potatoes, peppers and onions, all from local producers.
“It is a wonderful way to have fresh, in-season produce without having to take care of your own garden,” says frequent customer Paula Pohren, of Farmington.
Online Purchasing: Local food aggregators, and even some farmers, are offering online ordering. Some aggregators offer multiple pick-up locations across Iowa, to make local food more widely available. You can plan your purchase from home, then pick up all your local products in one quick trip. Examples include Farm to Folk (farmtofolk.com), based in Ames; the Iowa Food Cooperative (iowafood.coop), based in Des Moines; and Iowa Valley Food Co-op (iowavalleyfood.coop), based in Cedar Rapids. These online options also let farmers supply consumers with local foods throughout the winter.
Farmers Market: For people who like to shop at a physical location, the farmers market can be the highlight of the week. These markets usually feature several farmers from the region, and a wide range of offerings. Numerous markets are located across Iowa. Find a market near you in this directory compiled by Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS): iowaagriculture.gov/marketing.asp
Emily Zimmerman, of Ames says she’s looking forward to shopping at the Ames Farmers’ Market for berries from Berry Patch Farm, of Nevada, and cheese from Lost Lake Farm, of Jewell. “Supporting local farmers is important to me because their products are diversifying our local agricultural landscape, cultivating a sense of community each Saturday at our local market, and providing nutritious and healthy food to our community.”
Grocery Stores: If you like to shop for local produce but your schedule doesn’t fit the farmers market or on-farm purchasing, seek out local products in your grocery store. Some stores – like Wheatsfield Co-op in Ames; New Pioneer Food Co-op in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids; and Campbell’s Nutrition in Des Moines – consistently offer fruits, vegetables and other products raised by local farmers.
Certain Hy-Vee and Fareway stores around the state also occasionally carry local fruits and vegetables. Lisa Sawtelle, of Creston, applauds her local Hy-Vee and Fareway: “I love that our rural stores are starting to carry Bridgewater Farm greens so I can get them locally during the non-CSA season.”
If you’re not satisfied with the options at your local grocery store, find the produce manager and tell him or her you’d prefer to buy local fruits and vegetables, and ask which products might become available.
Iowans are fortunate to have some of the best soils in the world. This summer, let’s take pride in supporting our fruit and vegetable farmers and the bounty they bring from our soil to our communities.