Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition
Building a Local Food System
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The NIFF Coalition was the first pilot community selected by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture's Regional Food System Working Group (2006). NIFF has 30 very active members and over 60 producer members. The NIFF Coalition completed a strategic planning process with a diverse group of stakeholders where the assets, strengths and opportunities of the area were identified as well as the barriers and challenges. The conversations quickly narrowed to food production as a strength in the area. Farms in this area lead the state in direct food sales with $1.3 million dollars in sales. Yet, local food sales only account for about 1 percent of the total food purchased.
Today, the work of the NIFF Coalition has been integrated into the NE Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI) a partner of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food & Community program and one of one of nine initiatives in the U.S. The goals of the FFI are to promote opportunities for existing and new producers to engage in the local food system and regionally advance planning and policy change to support processing, distribution and storage opportunities in the local food system.
Creation of a learning community. The NIFF Coalition became the first pilot community selected in 2006 by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture's Regional Food System Working Group. Their initial three goals were to provide an opportunity for existing and new producers to diversify, to explore development of regional processing and storage facilities to add value to all agricultural products in the area, and to increase the consumption and sale of locally grown crops.
Developed a strategic plan. This plan was instrumental in their proposal submission to the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, and they were selected as the site of one of nine Food and Fitness initiatives across the U.S. The work of the NIFF Coalition has since been integrated into the NE Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI).
Facilitated institutional purchases of produce, dairy, and meat products. Through the work of the NIFF Coalition and RFSWG, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship clarified its policy on the use of local food by institutions, including schools, care centers and hospitals, and these buyers are again purchasing local fruits and vegetables.
Expanded the growing season. In 2008, increased buying interest from institutions led to a local wholesale and retail horticultural company to convert almost three acres of greenhouse space into a home for several types of vegetables and fruits.
Engaged Schools. The availability of off-season produce in the greenhouses led local school districts to realize they could purchase local food for approximately nine months out of the year. As of the spring of 2009, the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative is collaborating with the school system to provide children and their families access to healthier food options.
Increased commitment to buying local. Luther College, a local private college in the region, will contract with local producers for seven high volume food products in 2009, and has committed to purchasing 35 percent of its food from local producers by 2012.
Leverage funding and expertise. In two years, the initial $20,000 provided by the RFSWG in 2006 to support the NIFF Coalition has leveraged approximately $1.2 million in food and fiber infrastructure and resources for the region. This includes investment in greenhouses, apple and pear trees, grapes, poultry expansions, garden expansions, honey bee production, farm stand marketing, construction of packing sheds, hydroponic production, and much more. By tracking the purchases of four to five institutions in the last two years, the NIFF Coalition has realized an increase of more than $377,000 in local food purchases.