Iowa’s Food Hub Managers continue to work together, to meet and network, and to build capacity in the food system. This April, they asked food businesses from the Fairfield Iowa to join them so they could learn more about their products & see how they might find partnerships.
On April 5th, the group met in Fairfield at the Sustainable Living Coalition‘s SEED (Sustainable Education, Enterprise, and Design) Center, hosted by Barbara Stone.
The day started with Food Hub managers and partners networking, and sharing updates on their hubs, systems, and their year to date.Then, Jason Grimm of the Iowa Valley RC&D presented plans for the outreach and education the group will do as part of a Local Food Promotion Program Grant, which aims to educate institutional purchasers as well as farmers and food producers about food hubs. This project will include presentations and appearances at events such as the Iowa School Nutrition Association, the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Meeting, and the Iowa Grocer’s Industry Associaton Convention. The project also includes networking and outreach sessions with farmers and food business partners on how to use food hubs to market and distribute their products throughout Iowa.
One such networking session was about to commence, as Fairfield farmers and food businesses joined the food hub managers. Jason Grimm shared a brief presentation explaining the geographic reach of the food hubs, identifying the food hub managers, and the logistics of moving products from one part of the state to another through multiple food hubs’ distribution routes.
A panel of Fairfield’s food businesses followed, each giving the food hub managers a ‘pitch,’ describing their product, production practices and marketing channels. The group heard from Galen Saturley of Breadtopia, Jocelyn Engman of Pickle Creek Herbs, John Revolinski of Spring Sunrise Ghee, Noah Loin of Noah’s Raw Chocolates, Dan Gorman from Bubbling Brine Brothers, Michael Winnike of Slipstream Granola, Steve McClaskey from MUM Farms, Francis Thicke of Radiance Dairy, and Andrew Busscher of Bountiful Bakery.
With much knowledge and experience around the room, information sharing and networking between these two groups led to many valuable ideas, connections, and potential for business partnership. Some of the Fairfield businesses needed co-packing and/or individal quick freezing (IQF), which Penny Brown Huber of Iowa Choice Harvest, can provide at their small batch processing plant- the only one in Iowa.
Others had products that they were delivering to Des Moines, traveling a route that coincides with the one James Nisly of Organic Greens regularly travels as he distributes his own greens and the aggregated products of others. As the peer group listened to each food business describe their operations, they had insightful clarifying questions about the processes from start to finish, which resulted in keen insights and suggestions for new resources, and new connections.
Fruitful networking and informal discussions lasted through an outstanding lunch of local items, as well as taste-tests of the delicious items pitched by the panel. Facilitators had difficulty halting the incredibly engaged conversations to shepherd the group to the afternoon tours.
The group’s first stop was at Noah’s Raw Chocolate and the Bubbling Brine Brothers, where Noah Loin and Dan Gormon have teamed up on two excellent products. This production facility is small, but the recipes are incredible. using a co-packer for the chocolates, the chocolate company has been able to extend their distribution. The Bubbling Brine Brothers business, a younger venture, is preparing to scale up and looking for new ways to pack their fermented vegetables and kraut to help improve the efficiency of packing.
From here the group walked along the bustling Fairfield town square to the Pickle Creek Herbs showroom where Jocelyn Engman shared more about their business of creating herb-infused oils. In addition to bulk customers who cook exclusively with Pickle Creek’s carefully formulated oils, they also build variety packs of smaller bottles, which are a special favorite for holiday gift packages.
The final stop of the day took the group to Radiance Dairy where Francis Thicke and Susan Noll Thicke milk about 80 cows, selling 100% of their milk into local markets through their bottled milk, yogurt, and soft-serve ice cream. Radiance’s products have become a mainstay of Fairfield, and the farm has flourished through direct marketing. Francis often leads tours for community groups and customers who value visiting the farm where the milk is produced. Local customers are especially interested in the Thicke’s production practices, including their rotational grazing, organic certification, and practice of leaving calves with cows for an extended period of time.
For Radiance and for other food businesses, this gathering resulted in new connections that may bring Fairfield products to Iowans in other parts of the state. As we help shepherd these relationships and opportunities, we know they will ultimately provide new avenues for food businesses, farmers, food hubs, and other entrepreneurs to work together to bring more local Iowa products to market.