Grants Awarded for Three Regional Food Efforts

Three Iowa communities will get money for effort to provide new markets and more effective ways to sell sustainably-raised foods.

Three Iowa communities will receive nearly $50,000 to bolster their efforts to provide new markets and more effective networks for selling sustainably-raised Iowa foods.

The Regional Food Systems Working Group coordinated by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has awarded grants and additional technical support to Iowa organizations and groups working in the northeast, southwest and southeast areas of the state. The grants include:

  • $20,000 to the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition working in Allamakee, Clayton, Howard, Fayette and Winneshiek counties
  • $20,000 to the Cultivators in Cass and surrounding counties of Adair, Adams, Audubon, Montgomery, Pottawattamie and Shelby in southwest Iowa
  • $7,300 to the Southeast Iowa Local Food Network in Jefferson, Davis and Van Buren counties.

The grants will be used for planning, assessment, coordination, leadership development and other activities proposed by each group as part of a special call for projects. Funding for these projects comes from the Value Chain Partnerships project supported by the Henry A. Wallace Center at Winrock International, with some matching funds from the Leopold Center and Iowa State University.

"Our support for these projects is strategic," explains RFSWG coordinator Rich Pirog, who also directs marketing research at the Leopold Center. "We wanted to invest in groups that are working in defined geographical areas to help them make a better case for local and state investment in regional food businesses and the groups that provide assistance to those businesses."

How the groups will use the money

* The northeast group will use the grant to develop a directory of producers growing food for direct markets in the region. The funding will allow them to complete and share information from several surveys of consumers, farmers and food service institutions in the five-county area. They hope to increase local food sales by $50,000 during the first year of the project.

Primary partners in the Northeast Iowa Farm and Food Coalition include Winneshiek County Extension based in Decorah, the Northeast Iowa RC&D in Postville, agricultural commodity organizations, bankers, colleges and universities, farmers markets, regional development agencies, local food processors and a number of individual farmers.

As a result of strategic planning earlier this year (with support from the Leopold Center), the coalition has been invited to apply for a $250,000 two-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of its new Food and Fitness Initiative. The coalition is among 11 organizations competing nationwide for six Kellogg grants. Their proposal includes work with schools, colleges, health departments, local governments, farmers markets, health care facilities and other partners.

Markets for sustainably-produced food

* In southwest Iowa, the Cultivators will develop a strategic plan for their organization, host meetings to gather public input and offer training opportunities for producers. The group will participate in a vendor fair early next year conducted by Omaha Whole Foods store. Their work will begin in January, after an assistance plan has been developed.

In the group are representatives from the Wallace Foundation for Rural Research and Development and the National Center for Appropriate Technology, both with offices in Lewis in southwest Iowa. Also in the group are Cass County Extension; Cass County Memorial Hospital; Harrisdale Homestead and the Global Horizons entrepreneurial development program.

* The southeast Iowa project will focus effort in Fairfield and include other towns in Jefferson, Van Buren and Davis counties. The network has representatives from Pathfinders RC&D, Fairfield Buy Fresh Buy Local and Jefferson County Extension. The group plans to invite more organizations to its network, and develop a vision, strategic plan and action plan for the region. Like the southwest Iowa group, their efforts will start after an assistance plan is developed.

The Regional Food Systems Working Group began in 2003 to do research and facilitate partnerships to increase investment and support of community-based, economically sustainable and environmentally and socially responsible food enterprises. The group has awarded 13 other grants and assisted an organic dairy in southwest Iowa. With guidance from RFSWG, county government in Woodbury County last year developed incentive policies for farmer transition to organic production, the first such program in the nation.

More information about RFSWG is available on the Value Chain Partnerships project web site at

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