2017 locavore index released, Iowa slips in ranking


Locavore-Index-2017
(Strolling of the Heifers)
Jenna Ladd | May 18, 2017

For the sixth year in a row, Iowa’s position on the state locavore ranking has continued to slide downward.

Strolling of the Heifers, a farm and food advocacy organization out of Vermont, ranks the 50 states (plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) by their dedication to local food each year. This year the group used seven metrics to rank states: farmers markets per capita, community-supported agriculture per capita, farm-to-school food programs, food hub programs, direct farmer-to-consumer sales, USDA local food grants per capita, and hospitals sourcing local foods.

The state of Iowa was ranked 18th in 2017, a far cry from its second place ranking in 2012. Iowa has slid down the list each year, ranking 10th in 2014, 13th in 2015, and 14th last year. According to this year’s report, Iowa ranked in the top ten for farmers markets per capita and community-supported agriculture per capita. However, the state ranks 50th for local food-to-school programs. Iowa performs in the middle of the pack when it comes to direct farm-to-consumer sales and USDA local food grants per capita.

The 2017 index features a new metric: hospitals sourcing local foods relative to the state’s population. Hospitals and local food organizers in Vermont have led the way, but the report notes that healthcare centers across the country have been pushing for 10 to 20 percent locally-sourced food in recent years.

Steven R. Gordon is President and CEO of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in Brattleboro, Vermont. He said,

“Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is proud to be a leader in supporting local farms and producers of fresh and healthy food. Sourcing local produce not only supports our local economy but also helps our patients heal faster. Often times, when a person is ill or on various medications, their appetite diminishes and their tastes are altered. Providing our patients with in-season and locally-produced food allows us to provide meals with high flavor and nutrition.”

The state of Iowa ranked just inside the top 20 for local foods served in hospitals. The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems explains their journey to a more sustainable food system for hospitals and the benefits they’ve reaped thus far in the video posted below.

North Liberty Community Pantry Garden fosters health, community


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Garden and Volunteer Coordinator Ilsa Dewald working with youth volunteers in the North Liberty Community Pantry Growing Together Garden. (Steven Williams/Special Projects and Marketing Coordinator)
Jenna Ladd | August 16, 2016

The North Liberty Community Pantry has come a long way since its first days serving families from a First Methodist Church closet.

While the pantry is still an outreach ministry of the North Liberty church, its facilities are hardly comparable to the organization’s modest beginnings in 1985. The pantry is now housed in a modern building that features a client-choice shopping model. The building also features refrigerated and frozen food capacities, which is all part of the pantry’s mission to offer clients equal access to wholesome foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy. Executive Director Kaila Rome explains, “Everyone deserves to have the option of healthy nutrition choices, along with the access to knowledge and resources to implement healthy eating.”

Two years ago the pantry expanded that effort through the establishment of the North Liberty Community Pantry Growing Together Garden. The pantry received a Gardening for Health grant through the Wellmark Foundation’s initiative to provide healthier options to people experiencing food insecurity. The grant was matched by North Liberty community donations and provided funds for a paid garden coordinator, necessary equipment, and installation. The 9,600 sq. ft. garden is situated just west of the pantry and provided just over 800 pounds of organically grown produce for pantry goers last year.

When produce from the garden hits the pantry shelves, it is often accompanied by cooking instructions and other foods that pair well with it. “We’re still small enough where we get personal interaction with almost every family, or at least we try to, where we can ask them, ‘Hey, have you tried this recipe?’ What worked and what didn’t, people will bounce ideas off of each other so it’s been really great to see that just from having fresh produce. It’s just one of those things that you don’t think can bring people together, but I think it has,” said Rome.

Garden and Volunteer Coordinator Ilsa Dewald also provides more pointed skill-building through the organization of salsa and canning classes for families. Both community members and pantry families attend classes, encouraging cohesion among North Liberty residents. Rome added, “There’s just a big co-mingling of individuals from people who have used our services, maybe need to use our services in the future to people who just stop by the pantry to pick up their CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] share.”

In combination with donations from local farmers, the pantry is able to provide about three pounds of produce to clients per pantry visit. Rome said, “Just because someone is in need doesn’t mean that their needs change, they still need vegetables, they still need produce, they still need meat and dairy items…We’re not just handing out cans of beans and canned soup, but it’s more than that. It’s about giving back, even if you’re receiving services here, people will volunteer in the garden and it really helps them feel like they are able to contribute.”

The Growing Together Garden does more than provide families with the health benefits associated with eating more vegetables and fruits. It also provides a model of a local food system that is not only reserved for those with an abundance of resources such as arable land, start up money, and leisure time, all while curbing greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional food systems. The garden’s food equity work is echoed by fellow non-profit group Grow: Johnson County, which was recently leased two acres of county land by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to combat food insecurity and promote health through a garden education program. The organization grows vegetables exclusively for hunger-relief programs like Table to Table and The Crisis Center and provides garden education to disadvantaged populations. Grow: Johnson County’s Education Director Scott Koepke commented on the North Liberty Garden Project during its infancy, “This is not your typical garden. This is designed to be sustainable for years to come, and large enough to provide food for hundreds of people.”

With home and community gardens on the rise, up 200% since 2008, it seems projects like these will only continue to pick up steam; which, according to Koepke is a good thing, “Food insecurity isn’t going away anytime soon.”

On The Radio – Iowa ranks 14th nationally on local food index


Locavore Index Index graphic 2016 final
(Strolling of the Heifers)
Jenna Ladd | July 11, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers the state of Iowa’s slip from the top on the national local food index.

Transcript: Iowa ranks 14th nationally on local food index

The local food scene in Hawkeye State has slipped over the past four years according to a report by a Vermont-based food advocacy organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Strolling of the Heifers – a Vermont-based, non-profit food advocacy organization released its annual “Locavore Index” last month. The index uses several factors to measure the strength of a state’s local foods scene, including number of farmers markets, number of community supported agriculture – or CSA – programs, and direct-to-the-public food sales revenue from farms.

Iowa ranked 14th on the 2016 index, a slip of one spot from the state’s 13th place finish in 2015. The Hawkeye State has gradually slipped event year since the Locavore Index was first released in 2012, when Iowa finished second.

For more information and for a complete list of the 2016 rankings and for information on farmers markets near you, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

First growing season for downtown Iowa City rooftop garden


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Seedlings begin in a smaller, raised hydroponic bed. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
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PVC pipes deliver nutrient-rich water that will flow through root systems in lieu of soil. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | July 6, 2016

An Iowa City business owner has begun growing hydroponic vegetables on his downtown rooftop.

Mark Ginsberg, owner of a jewelry design studio and store called M.C. Ginsberg, has around 35 square-feet of hydroponic plants growing atop his business. Hydroponic gardens are systems in which plants can grow without soil, receiving the bulk of their nutrients from natural fertilizers in water like worm or fish waste. This nutrient rich water flows under plants and through root systems to sustain plant growth. Chad Treloar, Ginsberg’s construction lead for the project, built the garden with inexpensive, easy to acquire materials like PVC pipe, wood, and food-grade tubs.

In an interview with the Gazette, Ginsberg said that it would be possible to turn all urban Iowa City rooftops into food growing operations like his. He will harvest cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes first; he plans to give his bounty away to local restaurants and bars. In the coming years, MC Ginsberg’s garden will aim to sell its produce, depending on vegetable quality and yield dependability. Local restaurants seem eager to support the project, Oasis Falafel has already asked for all of the MC Ginsberg cilantro harvest.

In the long-term, Ginsberg is working to make hydroponic garden designs available to other downtown business owners. He aims to create a system that would allow owners to input rooftop dimensions and receive a cheap plan for hydroponic garden construction in return. He expects he could make these plans available for as little as 99 cents.

Green-roofs like these offer advantages to growers like runoff delay and stormwater management, improved air quality, and healthy foods with a small carbon footprint.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said the district is looking to back more projects like Ginsberg’s as a part of their larger sustainability focus for the downtown area.

Iowa ranks 14th nationally on local food index


(Strolling of the Heifers)
(Strolling of the Heifers)
Nick Fetty | May 18, 2016

Iowa ranks 14th nationally for its commitment to locally-grown food, according to the recently released Locavore Index for 2016.

The fifth annual Locavore Index was released last week by Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based, non-profit food advocacy organization. The index weighed several criteria to evaluate each state’s commitment to local foods including number of farmers markets (15 percent), number of community support agriculture (CSA) programs (15 percent), number of farm-to-school programs (15 percent), number of food hubs (5 percent), direct sales per capita (30 percent), and number of Know your Farmer, Know your Food grants (20 percent). The report used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Census bureau, and the California-based local food resource directory LocalHarvest.

Vermont took the top spot on the 2016 list for the fifth consecutive year. The Hawkeye State fell one spot from its ranking of 13th in the 2015 index and four spots from its 10th place finish in 2014. Iowa’s highest ranking came in 2012 when it finished second.

Two University of Iowa researchers used data from the 2015 Locavore Index to study local food in Iowa. Sara Rynes, a professor in the UI’s Tippie College of Business, and Ion Vasi, a CGRER member with joint appointments in the College of Business and the Department of Sociology, released “The Resurgence of the Locavore: The Growth of Local Food Markets in the United States” last year. Their study examined farmers markets and other local food initiatives in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and other communities in Iowa and how the concept of a “moral market” can influence a consumers’ behavior.

Study by University of Iowa alumnus examines ability to feed communities with local food


This map shows the ability of people to eat locally in different parts of the country. (University of California-Merced)
Nick Fetty | February 3, 2016

A University of California-Merced environmental engineering professor recently published a study which found that most of the country could grow enough food within 50 miles to feed up to 100 percent of a particular area’s population.

Dr. Elliott Campbell’s study – “The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States” – was published as the cover story in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this month. Campbell and his research team used data from a farmland-mapping project funded by the National Science Foundation and information about land productivity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map out the ability of different communities to feed their populations with locally-produced food. Campbell also used data from University of California Global Food Initiative in his study. The researchers examined data for the period between 1850 and 2000.

Campbell said his findings could have an affect on public policy.

“Going into this study, I expected some potential for local food systems and certainly some drawbacks. The overall result was very positive. It’s drawn a strong response from the public, the media and the academic community. And it definitely has the potential to shape public policy. It’s exciting,” he said in a Q&A with the UC Food Observer.

Campbell’s work was lauded by Michael Pollan, an author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC-Berkeley.

“Elliott Campbell’s research is making an important contribution to the national conversation on local food systems,” Pollan said in a press release. “That conversation has been hobbled by too much wishful thinking and not enough hard data — exactly what Campbell is bringing to the table.”

Campbell holds a B.S. and M.S. in environmental engineering from Stanford University and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa. Elliott also served as a researcher for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research during his time at Iowa.

Initiative brings local food to Casey’s stores in Iowa


Soybeans grow on a farm in northwest Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)
Soybeans grow on a farm in northwest Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | October 7, 2015

Casey’s General Store’s renowned breakfast pizza could be tasting a little fresher thanks to a new local initiative.

The Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) has announced it will work with Iowa farmers to supply locally-grown meat, eggs, and cheese to Casey’s General Stores across the state as part of a program known as “Homegrown Food, Homegrown Values.” The initiative aims to not only benefit local economies but also have a positive environmental impact.

“The Iowa Food and Family Project is all about letting consumers know where our food comes from and what farmers do to grow and raise it,” said Iowa FFP Coordinator Lindsey Foss. “We’ve been cultivating these conversations since 2011 about what farmers do to produce safe, quality food and what they do for the environment, and giving back to their communities. And that all embodies their hometown values which is the background on this campaign.”

Casey’s – an Ankeny, Iowa-based company – is the country’s fifth-largest chain of pizza kitchens with nearly 2,000 stores in 14 states, including more than 500 in Iowa.

In addition to Homegrown Food, Homegrown Values, the Iowa FFP also sponsors the Iowa Games as well as Live Healthy Iowa. Iowa FFP also works closely with organizations such as the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Egg Council.