School districts throughout eastern Iowa purchased over $65,000 in food from local farms in the 2016-17 school year with help from the Iowa Food Hub.
The finding is part of the annual food system evaluation report conducted by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach on behalf of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative (FFI).
The data includes schools from Allamakee, Bremer, Chickasaw, Clayton, Dubuque, Howard, Fayette, Linn and Winneshiek counties. Schools purchase local fruits and vegetables, beef, pork, turkey, yogurt and milk from the hub.
K-12 schools have purchased over $234,000 from the Iowa Food Hub since 2013.
“The food hub has been the key to success in growing local food purchases by schools,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, food system coordinator for the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Local Foods Team.
“In northeast Iowa, school purchases had plateaued at $20,000 per year. Once the food hub started weekly deliveries, the schools embraced the convenience,” said Wiemerslage.
Farm to school is a priority for the Iowa Food Hub. This relationship was amplified by a USDA Farm to School grant in 2013. Funds helped the food hub add staff to assist schools with procurement and menu planning, create weekly delivery routes to schools and investigate costs for minimally-processed food items for schools.
FFI is specifically interested in the districts in the six-county corner of the state, but Iowa Food Hub serves a larger radius and has started connecting with more schools around Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. One-third of the school purchases in 2016-17 came from districts outside of the FFI-focus area.
“Not only have the schools sourced high quality products for local school children, but they have also invested in the farmers that support our towns and schools,” said Wiemerslage.
The food hub is also able to accommodate special requests from schools, like Iowa sweet corn or local beef grilled by the cattlemen groups. In one case, the food hub found Viking apples to serve at Decorah during homecoming week.
When schools purchase local foods, their purchases trigger local economic activity. Several studies estimate that buying local food has a multiplier effect of 1.4-2.6 throughout the local economy; for every dollar spent locally, another 40 cents to $1.60 of economic activity is generated.
About the food hub
The Iowa Food Hub (IFH) is a local food distribution business that connects farmers and food buyers within a 150 mile radius of West Union, Iowa.
Hosted by a non-profit organization, the food hub was established to facilitate development of the regional food system. Their programming focuses on food access and equality, small and medium-sized farm viability, beginning farmers, local economic development, and food system research and education. Learn more at www.iowafoodhub.com.