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Board of Supervisors establishes Food Policy Council

BY BETH BRATSOS | FEBRUARY 03, 2012 7:20 AM

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Johnson County residents interested in local farming and agriculture will soon have an avenue to meet like-minded peers.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Thursday to implement a Food Policy Council, which would allow county residents in the agriculture community to bring their concerns to officials.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said he would like to see the council develop ideas and policies that would extend the growing season, create a year-round farmers' market, and create commercial-grade community kitchens.

"I think that we just barely hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential for more and more city residents to eat the local products grown here in Johnson County," he said. "It is unbelievable how much we import our foods. I want to be able to go to the grocery store and buy very few items that aren't grown and produced [here.]"

He said the supervisors would like to see the council consist of 10 to 15 local farmers and ranchers, food-safety specialists, anti-hunger advocates, food distributors, restaurant owners, and dietitians, among other experts.

The council's budget for the first year will likely be under $2,000, but it will increase over time as the council looks for other funding sources. That money will go toward speakers, two public forums a year, and consultants, among other expenses. A regular council meeting schedule will be developed after the council's formation.

Jason Grimm, a food-system planner at Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development who will serve as an adviser to the council, said he hopes the new organization will help local farmers and food vendors receive more support in the county.

"The council could suggest that the county develop a policy saying '10 percent of the food the county purchases has to be from local vendors,' " he said. "[We] can also work with departments to develop programs about different licenses for food processing, so new small businesses can start up and have appropriate permits."

Grimm said he also hopes the Food Council will create economic development in Iowa City by attracting new small businesses.

"The council could bring up ways for Johnson County farmers or businesses to receive small-business loans," he said. "Other counties have developed tax-rebate policies for farmers who grow enough locally or donate their food."

Doug Darrow, an Oxford, Iowa, livestock farmer, said he would like to see the council change some food-processing regulations.

"It's unique that I can process a chicken and give it to you, but if I process that same bird and ask you for the dollars for the feed of that chicken, it's illegal," he said. "I want to see small farmers allowed the ability to compete with big producers."

Johnson County is the third county in Iowa to develop a Food Policy Council; Cass and Pottawattamie Counties are the other two.

Supervisor Duane McFadden of Cass County said his county's Food Policy Council has increased the number of local businesses, such as hospitals and Hy-Vee stores, distributing locally grown food.

"It takes good people that have a good interest and are willing to donate the time," he said.

Applications to serve on the Johnson County council are due March 2.


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