The Low-Down on Local Foods: Part 1

The Low-Down on Local Foods: Part 1

by Sam Anderson, co-op intern

Local Foods, you hear about it everywhere, but what’s all the hype about?  Why is local food so important? I think a lot of people ask this question, especially today when there is a major disconnect between people and the food they eat. The concept of local food is important for a myriad of reasons, including economical, environmental, and communal.

Local food is important when considering economics. Concerning the farmers, on average a farmer receives 20 cents of every food dollar purchases while the rest of the dollar goes to transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and marketing. When buying local foods, farmers receive approximately 90 cents per dollar purchased. Theoretically, if consumers shifted only 1% of their purchases to locally grown products, farmers would see a 5% income increase.

Another reason why purchasing local foods is important is for the environmental benefit. The average grocery store’s produce travels about 1,500 miles to get to its final destination. On a smaller scale, the average conventional, American meal creates 17 times more carbon-dioxide emissions than a locally- produced meal. At a typical 3 squares a day, that’s a lot of extra carbon being produced if you’re eating all conventional, like my family does. In 1920s Iowa, half of the apples eaten were produced in the state. Today that number is at 15% and on average, 40% of fruit eaten in the United States has been produced overseas.

So, what’s going on in the state of Iowa concerning local foods? The Iowa Food and Farm Plan, developed in the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU was proposed to the Iowa legislature only a few weeks ago. The proposal is anticipating an increase in local food production along with the creation of over 600 jobs with the state bringing in an extra $62 million. Johnice Cross from G.R.O.W.N. Locally thinks that the plan will “show the rest of the nation how much of an economic engine food can be.” The plan also includes creating local food business development, support for a farm-to-school program for 2 years, and local food processing education along with many other proposals.

Looking at our community, many things are already going on in the Decorah area. Here we have the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition running since 2005 which helps farmers find new markets to sell to and also diversify farming operations.  The Coalition, along with Food and Fitness, are really focusing on local foods in schools at the moment according to Teresa Wiemerslage, who is a part of both programs. The Farm- to -School program has really grown in the past couple of years. Selling $28,000 of local foods last year within only 6 school districts, the program is now up to 14 school districts. The three colleges in the area – Luther College, Upper Iowa University and Northeast Iowa Community College have all made pledges toward local food purchases. In the surrounding communities, last year there was over $1 ½ million in local food sales. “The numbers are going in the right direction,” says Teresa, and she is hoping that “intervening at the school level is going to start a domino chain into the community.”  With the Food and Farm Plan, Teresa thinks that local foods are going to make even bigger strides. Everyone coming together and making a plan got “the boat turned in the right direction,” she says, “Now we can start paddling.” Hopefully we have some strong rowers out there.