Iowa Food Hub Defines Farmer Attributes

The Allamakee New Beginnings Board recently formalized its vendor policy to guide operations of the Iowa Food Hub.


The Iowa Food Hub (IFH) is a local food distribution business based in West Union, Iowa.  Established as a means to facilitate development of the regional food system, IFH programming focuses on food access and equality, small- and medium-sized farm viability, beginning farmers, local economic development, and food system research and education.


The policy evaluates farms and local food businesses that supply IFH on their fit in three scopes –location, production practices and social and environmental impact.  The scopes graduate from a required, base-tier to additional characteristics in the mid- and top-tiers.


“The W.K.Kellogg Foundation and their partners talk about ‘good food’ – food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, ISU Extension program coordinator in food systems, and advisor for IFH.


“While ‘good food’ is definitely the long-range goal, our experience has shown us that limiting the types of farms a food hub works with impedes market development. We just don’t have many local food farms in Iowa yet. We need to cast a large net first,” said Wiemerslage.


The new policy helps the board and IFH staff more easily answer the question, “What type of farms does IFH work with?” That is a common question asked by national partners, including the National Food Hub Survey conducted by Michigan State University.  The survey asks about the hub’s requirements or preferences for different production practices and farm structures.


“The base-tier is pretty inclusive to any farmer interested in marketing local food products,” said Nick Mabe, IFH Coordinator.  “That’s the mission of the NE Iowa Food and Farm Coalition – to create opportunities for farmers to engage in the local food system.”


“As markets continue to grow and more farmers come online, we can start using the matrix to evaluate the demographics of our farm and business suppliers,” said Mabe.  “Our goal eventually would be to have most of our farmers and businesses meeting the preferred attributes in the mid-and top-tiers.”


Some examples of some of the criteria in IFH’s Vendor Policy can be seen in Figure 1 (right).


Vendor Policy figure crop

“In addition to assisting IFH staff with intake decisions for new farms or businesses, the matrix will also help project evaluators measure progress toward the food hub’s goals,” said Wiemerslage.


For example, in 2014 Iowa Food Hub worked with 35 producers, producer groups and businesses. 92% were located in the six target counties of Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties – an outcome that satisfies the top-tier target.


About Iowa Food Hub
An outgrowth of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative (FFI), IFH unites the missions of its partners, nurtures regional collaboration, focuses on rural poverty alleviation, and promotes opportunities for local farmers to engage in the food system.


Iowa Food Hub is operated by Allamakee New Beginnings, a 501c3 non-profit. Established as an educational, research-driven food hub, IFH is also supported by the FFI core partners: ISU Extension and Outreach, Luther College, Northeast Iowa Community College, Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission and the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

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