Growers Sell Locally
Sales from Growers to Public Food Outlets Bring Goodwill, Fresh Tastes
|Jean Moseley and husband, Jim, sell vegetables and herbs to local outlets in a SARE-sponsored project that brings them as much as 50 cents more per pound on items like tomatoes. The owner of Rudys Tacos in Cedar Falls, Iowa, pays us what we consider to be really fair, she says. Photo by Jerry DeWitt.|
Universities, hospitals and restaurants have long been reluctant to purchase food outside food service contracts, most of which guarantee that what is dished up comes from faraway places. Trying to reverse the trend and hook Iowa growers to some of the biggest food purchasers in northern Iowa, Kamyar Enshayan received a SARE grant to make it easier for institutions to buy from their neighbors.
Since then, he has assembled an impressive list of food buyersfrom a Mexican-style restaurant to his institution, University of Northern Iowathat buy meat, vegetables, beans and grains from area farmers.
The biggest impact is at Rudys Tacos of Waterloo, Iowa, which purchased close to $143,000 worth of Iowa products in 2001, from beef to tortillas. Its a lot fresher and the quality is better, said Barry Eastman, owner of Rudys Tacos, who used to buy from a distributor until he tasted chicken from a local family-run farm. Its nice to know where your food comes from.
Key to Enshayans success has been employing student interns to work for institutions to handle the details of the new local food-buying process. Even huge food buyers like Allen Memorial Hospital spent $60,000 on Iowa products once cafeteria managers saw how much their customers loved the alternative.
Enshayan hopes the interest from food buyers will spearhead increased food production in areas where Iowa has been lacking, such as vegetables. The sustainable ag movement 20 years ago focused on improving on-farm practices, said Enshayan, who said that most of the farmers he works with come from family farms and define themselves as sustainable growers. Today, the focus on local food and strengthening local relationships is recirculating the financial capital thats been leaving our communities.
For every grant dollar he received, the project funneled $6.50 into the regional economy. The 15 to 20 farmers he works with report satisfaction with their involvement, even though at this point they have seen gross income increase by just 5 to 15 percent. His plans to create links with as many as 14 institutions should help. After about 50 invitations to speak about his project around the country, Enshayan hopes to spread his success beyond northern Iowa.
[For more information, go to www.sare.org/projects/ and search for LNC00-166]