University of Northern Iowa Local Food Project

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Type: Program

Status: Established in 1997

Source File:


Strengthening the local food economy in Iowa through:

  • Connecting institutional food buyers to nearby farms and processors
  • Fostering a growing relationship among consumers, grocers, meat lockers, restaurant owners, dining service staff, farmers, local government and economic development officials
  • Making it easier for Iowans to find and purchase locally grown food and agricultural products
  • Assisting local independent food and farm businesses better communicate their positive impacts in the local economy
  • Sharing lessons learned with other communities and policy makers

A short history of our work and accomplishments
In 1997, with a grant from the Leopold Center, we began working with three institutional food buyers to assist them in buying a greater portion of their food from nearby farms and processors. By 2003, fourteen institutions have spent more than $1 million buying locally raised foods in our metro area.

In 2003, in Collaboration with Practical Farmers of Iowa and Food Routes Network, we launched the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local," a comprehensive marketing and consumer outreach campaign. In 2004, twenty three restaurants, retailers and businesses committed to growing our regional food system stronger doubled their local food purchases to $465,000, compared to $225,000 in 2003.

Key Reasons for Buying Locally-Grown Food

Freshness and taste - Locally-grown fruits and vegetables are usually harvested within 24 hours of being purchased. Produce picked and eaten at the height of ripeness tastes better. Imported produce from distant places can't be that fresh and is often treated with preservatives to endure a long haul and storage.

Variety - Farmers markets can offer produce varieties bred for taste and beauty rather than for shipping and long shelf life.

Regional economic vitality - If residents of Black Hawk County spent $10 (of their total grocery dollars) every week on locally grown food, that would amount to $2 million every month invested in local people, local farms, and independent local businesses. Bingo!

"Homeland Security" - Dependence on far away food sources leaves us vulnerable to supply disruptions, and reduces any real accountability and relationship between producers and consumers. Buying locally grown food is a community-building process that supports diversified farms, producing a wide variety of food crops (not just feed) for local consumption.

Food safety - After reading the New York Times bestseller Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, or seeing the PBS FRONTLINE report on "Modern Meat," you will realize that food from a global supermarket (dominated by a few corporate giants with considerable influence on governments) is troublesome, and that strengthening local food connections is a practical necessity.

Energy conservation - An average food item travels nearly 1,600 miles before reaching our table here in the Midwest. In contrast, fruit and vegetables sold at the Cedar Falls Farmers Market have traveled 15 miles or so at the most. Buying locally significantly reduces the energy used in packaging, shipping, distributing and retailing.

A new way of eating - A growing number of people are interested in knowing how their food was grown and who raised it. Did the farmer receive a living wage? Was the land properly cared for? Were pesticides and antibiotics used routinely? Was the working condition of people who processed the meat safe and just? Current food labels are silent about all of these questions. Consumers closer to their food source can find answer to these questions.