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Let’s talk local

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(CNA photo by SARAH BROWN)
Local Foods Coordinator Alexi Groumoutis works with local farmers and institutions to bring fresh, local produce to consumers. ""Local foods is not a new thing," said Groumoutis. "It used to be the only thing.

It’s a call to action.

Local Foods Coordinator Alexis Groumoutis is working to bring local farmers and institutions together with the purpose of getting more institutions such as grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals and schools to sell or incorporate local foods when preparing meals.

“The focus is to promote fresh, local foods in our communities and to support local farmers and growers,” said Groumoutis.

At her family’s restaurant, A&G Pizza Steakhouse and Lounge, Groumoutis held a meeting Mar 14 for local producers and institution representatives to begin identifying ways to accomplish this.

“Local foods is not a new thing,” said Groumoutis. “It used to be the only thing. Thanks to the convenience of the industrial food system, we, as a society, have strayed from local foods.”

Groumoutis said, by connecting consumers directly to producers, consumers can support sustainable food practices, improve their own health, environment and build community relationships and a stronger local economy.

Guest speakers who shed light on the benefits and challenges were Creston Farmers’ Market Manager Brian Zachary, Compliance Officer James Romer, with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and Dale Raasch of Bridgewater Farm.

“We know change isn’t going to happen overnight, or that things will be perfect,” said Groumoutis. “But we need to start somewhere.”

Back to basics

According to Zachary, a hundred years ago, all food was local. Each town had its own dairy, butcher and baker. However, as a result of industrialization, the food system became centralized, and it became possible to ship food a very long way.

“The end result, food is shipped farther, picked younger and selectively bred to be shelf stable, instead of delicious or nutritious,” said Zachary.

According to Zachary, pushing food around the planet wastes the little fuel we have left and pollutes the planet.

“That’s the old way,” he said. “And we need a new way, which is funny because the new way is the old, old way. So, getting back to a local-food system will be better for the planet and the people.”

Zachary said by having several local growers of spinach, for example, would offer institutions other options if one crop is impacted by drought or disease.

“But if we centralize the growing and it is impacted by disease, that entire product is pulled,” said Zachary.”

Zachary also pointed out that by purchasing from local producers, money stays in local economies.

“In any local business, 75 cents of every dollar stays in your regional economy,” said Zachary. “With any kind of chain business, the ratio is flipped on that.”

Zachary said the goal is to see 40 percent of food in institutions to come from local sources.

The risk of doing nothing

Raasch started a modest garden in 2006. Before he knew it, he was raising more vegetables than he knew what to do with and started taking them to the farmers’ market.

Over time, Raasch started taking his produce to hospitals and nursing homes.

“We just showed them our product … and they started purchasing from us,” said Raasch. “That is how we got started selling to our institutions.”

Today, Raasch and his son Tyler farm almost 12 acres of organic vegetables, chickens, beef, pork and eggs.

“All of our livestock is grown without drugs, antibiotics or hormones,” said Raasch.

Raasch recalled an episode of “Dr. Oz”, in which Oz pointed out the amount of antibiotic in many meat products is causing consumers to become resistant to antibiotics. He also shared handouts on genetically-modified food, warning consumers of the hidden dangers of trace ingredients, which the Federal Drug Administration currently does not require labeling for.

“Forty other countries, European countries, they have already banned GMO products,” said Raasch. “They won’t even allow them in their country. And in the United States we aren’t doing anything about it.”

Some of the most alarming claims within the handouts provided by Raasch are that GMOs have not been tested for long-term safety, yet short-term studies have indicated serious concerns related to infertility and immune problems in animals and humans.

“In five generations of rats and mice, they can’t even produce any young,” said Raasch. “We are already seeing that in our livestock. I’ve talked to a DNR guy, and the reason we are losing so many pheasants is because they are eating the GMO corn and soybeans that fall on the ground, so they are not producing.”

How to support the initiative

Zachary suggested ways for the community to begin encouraging institutions to buy local foods, such as shopping for locally-grown produced and meat through community supported agriculture (CSA), farmers’ market or through an Internet-based food cooperative.

According to Zachary, through a CSA, the member pays a fee for a season and in return receives a box of food based on what is fresh at that farm.

“It’s a great way for them (the farmers)  to be supported ahead of time and for you to get what’s most fresh at that time,” said Zachary.

Zachary said the Wallace Center in Orient offers recipes and newsletters with boxes provided to their subscribers. He said the boxes are also dropped-off to a location in Creston so subscribers don’t have to travel far for fresh produce. The Iowa Food cooperative, an Internet co-op, allows members to purchase directly from producers by ordering online and picking up from a centralized, local location.

“We are seeing a growing number of people want to grow produce and farmers’ markets are becoming more popular than before,” said Groumoutis. “We are seeing institutions growing an interest in the local-foods movement, as well. So, our challenge is, how do we get local foods into the institutions?”

The solution is simple: buy local. When the community rallies behind local farmers in large numbers and buys their products, institutions will take notice. The power lies with the people.

If you are a producer, institution or consumer and would like more information on the Southern Iowa local foods initiative, contact the Southern Iowa Resource Conservation and Development office at (641) 782-7058 or online at www.southerniowarcd.org.

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