Supervisors eye council on local foods

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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Johnson County officials identified local food as an area to explore further in their most recent strategic plan. And with a new council devoted to local foods potentially on the horizon, they seem to be making progress.

During a work session Wednesday, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors indicated the members would appoint a food-policy council to advise them on local food issues.

"One of the things we realized is that we all don't have the expertise to address these issues by ourselves," said Supervisor Rod Sullivan.

While food-policy councils are nothing new in the United States, only two Iowa counties — Pottawattamie and Cass — have appointed councils, said Jason Grimm, a food-system planner at Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development in Amana.

Grimm has worked closely with the Johnson County supervisors to provide them with information on how a food council operates. The main objective of a food council is to bring different departments and agencies together around food, Grimm said.

"A primary interest in Johnson County would be to help focus around rebuilding our local food system and helping departments have a better connection between each other and how they can change policies and reduce barriers for certain activities to happen," he said.

Laura Dowd, the executive director of Local Foods Connection — a nonprofit organization in Iowa City — said she is "very supportive" of the food council and would consider serving on the committee. A food council could suggest new initiatives to the supervisors that may benefit local farmers and growers, she said.

"The community can voice the needs and concerns of small farmers and local food producers," she said.

While no specifics have been drawn up, Grimm said, he hopes to have a draft ready by the end of May after looking at various council models.

Pottawattamie County supervisors appointed a food council in 2008, and Cass County followed shortly after in 2009.

Bahia Barry, the local food coordinator for both counties, said having a dedicated committee in each county helps "move us in the direction we want to move in."

All councils work differently, she said, and each county has to find adapt to fit its specific needs.

Having a budget helps, she said.

Annual budgets for the Cass and Pottawattamie food councils range from around $1,000 to $10,000, Barry said.

"If [the councils] could afford to do more, they would," she said.

Most committees in Johnson County don't have a their own budget, Sullivan said. But a food council would likely be able to dip into relevant departments, such as Planning and Zoning or Public Health, he said.

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