November 26, 2022

Iowans benefit from locally-grown foods

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a four-part series on changes to Iowa farming

A typical carrot travels 1,838 miles to reach a dinner table. The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability found only 5% of the 25 million pounds of carrots eaten by Iowans each year are actually grown in Iowa.

“Ninety percent of the foods Iowans consume is imported,” guest panelist JD Scholten of Sioux City said Thursday in Greenfield. “Sixty percent of the apple juice consumed in America comes from China. Think about the environmental impact of that. Think of the regional impact of that. The apple orchards around the U.S. could support our apple juice.”

The Warren Cultural Center in Greenfield hosted four guest panelists Thursday to discuss the Farm Bill as a part of their successful community speakers series.

The Farm Bill is a package of legislation passed every five years that has a big impact on farming livelihoods, how food is grown and what kinds of foods are grown. The bills also include subsidies or payments to farmers that meet certain criteria. Each Farm Bill has a unique title. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 expires in 2023.

“The spotlight from the pandemic is on our food system and on our supply chain,” Scholten said. “We’re getting away from regionalism.” Scholten is an independent farmer advocate.

According to the USDA, a product can be marketed as locally or regionally produced if its end-point purchase is within 400 miles from its origin, or within state boundaries. However, most retailers, restaurants or food services often define local to be on a smaller scale.

“It’s difficult,” said panelist and Greenfield farmer Randy Caviness. “We tried to have a little store in Fontanelle, but they can buy it 15 cents cheaper in Walmart. The people have to buy into it and find the value in it. What we’re dealing with is a world economy that demands greater efficiencies and that’s what’s driving all this.”

Caviness has been active in the agriculture community, having been involved in Adair County and State Farm Bureau volunteer leadership service, former director of Soil Conservation Districts of Iowa, ISU Extension Council service and county wind energy development group.

A northeast Iowa study found in a hypothetical scenario where the population’s diet was based on local production involving fruits, vegetables, grain products, dairy and meats, 408 jobs would be regionally supported.

The Iowa Farmers Union reports direct-to-consumer food sales generate over $320 million a year for Iowa farms. In addition, If Iowa farmers met just half the existing demand for locally-grown food, it would create $1.67 billion in annual sales and support 12,000 Iowa jobs.

“My hope is we totally re-gear the Farm Bill to what we want and what we need, which is rebuilding local communities and building a healthier market,” moderator John Norris said. Norris was the former chief of staff for USDA, U.S. minister-counselor for agriculture to UN Rome-based agencies including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program.

The Iowa State Extension Office states locally-grown produce is healthier. “Produce starts losing nutrients as soon as it is harvested. What you buy at the supermarket may have been harvested days or weeks before reaching the retail shelf,” their website states. “On the other hand, produce bought from a local producer has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. Locally grown produce can be more nutrient dense than produce shipped from across the country.”

Scholten said if the Farm Bill prioritizes infrastructure like food hubs and using technology to increase awareness of local foods available, the market will grow. “I do see, especially in the younger generation, the desire for alternative ways of food. I see that a lot where I’m from,” he said. “It’s hard for local folks, local communities and local restaurants. We’ve got to find ways to incentivize that.”

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.