By Angela Holmes

CEDAR FALLS — Although area gardens and fields are covered with snow, winter is a busy season for local food program managers, like Rachel Wobeter of the UNI Local Food Program.

“This is when we do outreach for producers, host workshops and go to conferences,” Ms. Wobeter said.

Under the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education, the UNI Local Food Program began in 1997.

“It started out connecting local producers to buyers,” Ms. Wobeter said.

In 2007, the Northern Iowa Food and Farm Partnership (NIFFP) was formed to engage a broader audience, including city and county leaders as well as producers and buyers. The program offers technical services and networking opportunities for local farmers and buyers in Black Hawk, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Grundy and Tama counties.

“The goal of the program is to strengthen the local food system,” Ms. Wobeter said.

Among the NIFFP’s goals is to promote the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign which was launched in the greater Cedar Falls/Waterloo area in 2003 through the collaboration of UNI, Practical Farmers of Iowa and Food Routes Network.

The campaign, which markets area producers and restaurants, grocers and other institutions that use local food, has increased significantly in the past 10 years, Ms. Wobeter said.

The 2014 guide will be available the first week of May at www.uni.edu/ceee or in printed form. About 15,000 copies of the brochure will be distributed in various newspapers as well as throughout Black Hawk County and the surrounding area.

The guide, which includes grocers, institutions, restaurants and schools that use local foods, as well as lists of area food producers and farmers markets, has helped in raising awareness of local food.

“Farmers will tell me that their customers saw it,” Ms. Wobeter said.

The Buy Fresh, Buy Local program has a tiered layer of membership for producers and groups that use local food. Membership includes a listing in the online or printed brochure as well as use of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local logo.

While restaurants, grocers and other members need to submit their local food sales numbers, there is not a certain percentage that needs to be met to qualify for membership, Ms. Wobeter said.

While the NIFFP focuses primarily on Black Hawk and surrounding counties, it is also a member of the Regional Food Systems Working Group which covers 15 geographical areas in Iowa. The regional group was convened in 2003 by the Leopold Center Marketing and Food Systems Initiative to promote local and regional food system development. This regional group also includes Field to Family Regional Community Food Coalition which covers Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Poweshiek, Tama and Washington counties.

In October, the Leopold Center released a report from data collected from the 15 regions, “2012 Economic Impacts of Iowa’s Regional Food Systems Working Group.” The report showed that institutional purchases of local food added nearly $9 million to the Iowa economy in 2012.

Nearly 180 businesses and individuals participated in the data collection, including 74 buyers and 103 producers of local foods. As well as sales of farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) enterprises, information was also collected on local food sales to restaurants, grocers, hospitals, nursing homes, college and school food services.

A few of the key findings include:

  • Local food purchases in 2012: 74 buyers reported total purchases of $8.9 million
  • Local food sales in 2012: 103 farmers reported total sales of $10.5 million
  • New jobs related to local food in 2012: A total 36 new jobs (24 full-time equivalent) were created in 2012 (reported by a subset of buyers and farmers)
  • Funds leveraged by eight regional food groups in 2012: $766,020

Program managers hope to use the information in the report to encourage legislators to support local food initiatives, Ms. Wobeter said.

 

Upcoming UNI Local Food Program events

 

Growing Forward

When: 7-9 p.m., Feb. 24

Where: Lang Auditorium at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls

Speaker: Curt Ellis, co-founder and CEO of FoodCorps, a national service organization that is changing the way children relate to food. Free and open to the public.

 

Feeding Black Hawk County Region

When: 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., March 7

Where: Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls

Program includes:

  • Welcome by John Miller, Black Hawk County Supervisor
  • Highlights of what’s happening in the region, Rachel Wobeter and Kamyar Enshayan, UNI
  • The role of local food in economic development, Ken Meter
  • Iowa Choice Harvest: A locally-owned freezing facility, Farmer Tim Daley and Shane Tiernan, GNB Bank
  • Addressing hunger in Black Hawk County, Barb Prather, Northeast Iowa Food Bank
  • Growing healthy food access through community action, Angie Tagtow, Iowa Food Access & Health Work Group

To register, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/feeding-black-hawk-county-tickets-10174493183 or call Kamyar Enshayan at (319) 273-7575

 

Cedar Valley Local Food Fair

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., March 15

Where: Grout Museum, 503 South St., Waterloo (www.groutmuseumdistrict.org)

Meet CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmers and sign-up to receive fresh, local produce all season long. Sample recipes to prepare at home, try food activities and learn how to find fresh, local food in the Cedar Valley. Make homemade butter, sample local popcorn and watch cooking demonstrations. Free.