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Summit to focus on local foods

BY CAITLIN FRY | FEBRUARY 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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Local food producers want their products on more tables.

Today, farmers, managers, producers, and buyers will have a chance to meet and talk about the benefits of buying locally at the “Come to the Table: Local Food Summit for Producers and Purchasers” in the Coralville Public Library, 1401 Fifth St.

Organizers said they hope the event not only educates people but provides more buyers for local farmers by introducing residents, organizations, and businesses directly to food producers.

“Our mission is to encourage a more local and a more sustainable agriculture,” said Michelle Kenyon-Brown, the executive coordinator of the Johnson County Local Food Alliance.

The Iowa Corridor Food and Agriculture Coalition will host the event with support from various co-ops and local food producers.

“Come to the Table fits into the [alliance’s] goals by working to build a larger customer base for our local farmers,” Kenyon-Brown said. “Therefore, making local food even more available in the Johnson County area.”

Panelists will discuss a new legislative report, the “Iowa Food and Farm Plan,” as well as answer questions about local food practices.

Organizers are particularly trying to reach out to school officials, who in recent years have become more interested in local produce. They said officials became particularly interested after seeing Morgan Spurlock’s eye-opening documentary Super Size Me (2004).

At the University of Iowa, officials created a student-run garden behind Burge, with produce being used in the Marketplace. They have also increased the amount of local food used in the Marketplaces by 52 percent, according to IMU Dining.

But the UI isn’t the only school looking to increase its involvement with locally grown producers. According to an Iowa City School District representative, food-service director Diane Duncan-Goldsmith is planning on attending the summit, and she has worked with various local food groups to establish a relationship between the schools and the producers.

“It’s a real win-win,” said Johnice Cross, a producer cooperative for GROWN Locally, a farm cooperative in northeastern Iowa</a>. “It’s healthier and money is kept in the community and the region, which lets it circulate and return to their businesses, as well.”

That’s a main concern for many local producers who don’t like seeing larger companies, such as Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s, supplying the population with products whose production practices are unknown to its consumers.

“The big companies are trying to get into the [local food] business but are having limited success,” said Local Harvest supply manager Phil Danowsky. “Most of the growers of fruits and vegetables are relatively small producers and have little experience in selling to wholesale markets.”

Jesse Singerman, a co-organizer of Iowa Valley Food Co-op, said she believes the summit will help local food partners engage in building a new food system.

“Events like this can link buyers and sellers together and help develop new linkages,” she said. “That’s sort of what we need — more outlets, more producers, and the building of a network.”


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