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Facilities in development to help local farmers

BY DANIEL SEIDL | NOVEMBER 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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Farming has always had a place in Iowa, and a newly planned Food Enterprise Center or Food Hub could help local farmers remain relevant by giving them access to some of the same resources as larger food distributors.

Jason Grimm, Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development food-system planner and one of the main facilitators of this plan, said without this kind of facility, it would be difficult for local farmers to be financially sustainable.

“There’s only so much money you can make [at a farmer’s market],” Grimm said. “It allows family farm businesses to make the majority of their income off [of their] farms.”

Last year, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors awarded Grimm a block grant to research the local food industry.

Using this money, he hired Prairie Ventures President Jesse Singerman, who compiled the research into a report that they presented at the supervisors meeting on Thursday.

The report discussed the possibility of a new Food Enterprise Center or Food Hub in Johnson or Linn County. Singerman said these facilities have different, but equally important, functions.

A Food Enterprise Center would provide needed infrastructure for food processing and food preparation, including kitchens, food prep rooms, and cooled storage. A Food Hub would handle the distribution and aggregation of local foods, making them more available to the consumer.

According to the report, the total number of farms in Johnson and Linn County has fallen based on the most recent census data. However, the number of small farms has risen.

Singerman said smaller farms more often produce fruit and vegetable crops, instead of the row crops such as corn, which are produced by larger farms. Because of this, a facility such as this may have a home in Johnson County, Singerman said.

“Johnson County has agricultural production that would benefit [from this kind of facility],” she said. “If it could be done, it can be done here.”

Grimm and Singerman are currently working on a proposed planning grant to the Leopold Center at Iowa State University. This grant would fund research to decide whether a facility of this type is feasible in the Johnson County area.

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said this facility would be of great benefit to local farmers.

“You have to be able to package your product in a way the larger consumer can use [it],” Rettig said. “That is clearly the next stage that’s going to happen.”

If they get enough support for the planning grant, Singerman said, the facility could be in development in two years. Though it has been a long planning process, she said this is necessary in order to insure success.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said development of a facility such as this would be essential for the future.

“We have to maintain our ability to feed ourselves locally,” he said. “The future is producing our own food.”


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