UI graduate keeps it spicy with organic burritos

BY ERIC CLARK | OCTOBER 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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When Kyle Sieck worked at a local vegetable stand at the Iowa City Farmers’ Market four years ago, he noticed a need for cooked food.

“There wasn’t really anything to eat but zucchini bread,” he said.

Sieck then began the process of setting up his own business, which he dubbed Local Burrito. He said the food stand started out as an experiment but has evolved into something much larger.

The Farmers’ Market was recently ranked the No. 1 farmers’ market in the state American Farmland Trust’s annual “America’s Favorite Farmers’ Markets.”

The 2008 University of Iowa graduate is no stranger to the topic of sustainability — he is a former president of the UI Environmental Coalition. The coalition works with the UI Office of Sustainability and holds other events to help students become more aware of their natural environment.

UI Office of Sustainability director Liz Christiansen said organic and locally grown foods not only help support the local economy, they also promote better health.

“It’s a challenge for many families to take part in the sustainable food movement,” she said. “Cheap calories come from mass produced food and are cheap both in price and in nutrition value,” she said.

The UI continually makes an effort to become more sustainable and promote organic and local food production, and it will host the 12th-Annual Iowa Organic Agriculture Conference on Nov. 18 and 19. Registration for the conference began Sunday.

UI Assistant Professor Craig Just, the director of the Sustainable Citizen Program, said health awareness regarding food consumption is a growing priority for many citizens.

“It’s not surprising that most people want to know that their food is safe and healthy,” he said.

“Gaining this assurance is made difficult if food is produced far away and behind closed doors.”
However, Just acknowledged that local and organic foods are often more expensive than mass-produced goods that are readily available at the local grocery store.

“We have to encourage more local food production while also ensuring that people don’t go hungry,” he said.

Sieck has embraced both local and organic foods, and says he uses 90 percent local and 100 percent organic foods in the production of his burritos. He said he grew some of what he uses in the burritos and sourced the rest of his from local farms or the Farmers’ Market.

The UI alum is well aware of the extra cost that accompanies both his ingredients and his final product and uses it to his own advantage.

Local Burrito only cost approximately $800 to start up, Sieck said, and produces enough income for him to make a living.

Local Burrito has evolved into a catering business as well, providing a “mobile burrito bar” to anything from tailgate parties to company outings.

“I’m taking everything that I do at the Farmers’ Market and taking it to parties,” he said. “My niche is the ethic. I’m really honing in on the food ethic.”

The Iowa City Farmers’ Market will conclude its fall season on Saturday, but it will move to the Wood Elementary gym, 930 Lakeside Drive. The owner of Local Burrito isn’t sure if he will be present at those markets, citing business with his catering business, along with uncertainty regarding the dates and times of the market.

Sieck also plans to operate a food truck in the near future, calling the idea “practical business.” He plans to park the truck in areas that have little access to food, such as factory districts.

Sieck said he thinks there is a lot of growth potential in the local food industry.

“As we re-localize our local food economies, there’s a lot of room for new jobs to be created,” he said. “But it will take hard work, insight, and the right capital investments to become a more resilient community.”

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