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Johnson County food council would provide myriad community benefits

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Johnson County is about to be the site of Iowa’s third Food Council.

Food Councils, which exist in Pottawattamie and Cass Counties, aim to integrate local food into the community, promoting the buying and selling of locally grown foods, fostering economic growth in the agricultural sector and providing positive education about locally grown foods. Johnson County’s adoption of a Food Council is vital to the county and state’s economy, environment, citizens, and productive future.

In April, Jason Grimm, a food-system planner of the Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development group in Amana, was asked by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors for recommendations about the support of agriculture in Johnson County. One of the recommendations provided by Grimm was to establishment a Food Council. Grimm presented a resolution draft to the supervisors on June 2.

“The Board of Supervisors will nominate a set of representatives from the community such as public-health officials, farmers, a restaurant owner, an economic developer, etc., and meet regularly to discuss and work on tasks to implement locally grown foods into Johnson County not just through farmers’ markets but into stores, restaurants, schools, etc.,” Grimm told the *DI* Editorial Board on Monday. “Together, they will develop goals to follow or policies to implement and provide necessary resources.”

The Johnson County Food Council is still in the development phase, but the supervisors estimate that it won’t take long to get the council up and running.

“A committee will meet sometime in the near future. We will decide on who the representatives or different entities will be,” Johnson County supervisors’ executive assistant Andy Johnson told the Editorial Board. “Once we officially act, it wouldn’t take long — maybe a process of six months or so to develop the plan.”

The integration of local food into existing community systems provides both economic and environmental benefits.

Americans spend a lot of money on food, because much of it is highly priced. In a 2006 study done by an economic research service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that Americans spent $880.7 billion on food. More than 20 percent of this money, $178.8 billion, went toward the cost of transporting food long distances, including transportation, packaging and handling, fuel, and corporate profit costs. The incorporation of locally grown foods into the community marketplace through the help of a Food Council could drastically reduce these costs, along with boosting profits for local farmers.

It also reduces the environmental costs of shipping food far away. The further produce travels, the more must be spent to keep it appealing; shrink-wrapped cucumbers and tomatoes in plastic crates are a natural outcome of the long-distance produce trade. And that still ignores the fuel necessary to transport truckloads of California produce.

Thus far, the Food Councils in Pottawattamie and Cass Counties have proved extremely helpful in achieving their goals: using more locally grown foods in the communities.

“I can’t highlight enough the important role that the Food Councils serve,” Bahia Barry, the local food coordinator for Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development, which serves Southwest Iowa, told the Editorial Board. “The community of farmers and ranchers has embraced the council as a means of reaching out to the community. The council serves as an asset of back-and-forth feedback with farmers, community members, and the supervisors.”

Barry noted that food was purchased in other parts of the country, because it used to be cheaper for the longest time. Now, however, it’s cheaper to buy locally. Because of this, counties have an opportunity and a necessity to look into creating Food Councils.

Iowa’s Farm to School initiative has made its presence known in Johnson County; earlier this month, students in the Iowa City School District were treated to salads made with local lettuce as part of a “Spring Greens Day.” A Johnson County Food Council would help to connect local farmers and consumers, making similar events more frequent and, hopefully, integrating local food into everyday life.

Creating a Food Council in Johnson County would open the door for many farmers and local growers to reach citizens beyond the farmers’ markets. If implemented correctly and without red tape, the Food Council would help bring Johnson County into the locally sourced future, helping farmers, consumers, and the planet alike.


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