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State report shows local food programming is $9 million industry

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 11:33 a.m. CST

CEDAR FALLS (MCT) — A new report shows that purchases of local food added nearly $9 million to the Iowa economy last year, including a partnership the University of Northern Iowa has made with local farmers.

A report published last month by the Leopold Center for Agriculture shows 74 buyers, including grocery stores, hospitals, colleges and schools, purchased food from 103 area farmers. Farmers made more than $10 million from their sales.

Regional Food Systems Working Group, tracked these transactions proving their work enhances statewide initiatives like the Local Food and Farm Program, passed in 2011 by the Iowa Legislature to increase production and consumption of local food.

The report highlighted UNI’s Buy Fresh Buy Local program, started in 1997. Now, UNI spends about 29 percent of its food purchasing dollars on fruit, vegetables, honey, meat, poultry and dairy products within 250 miles of the university.

“I hope it helps farmers think about other specialty crops that can be grown on part of their land that are items consumers can eat right away,” said Lisa Krausman, purchasing manager for UNI’s Residence Administration.

UNI is able to reduce surplus waste by purchasing items like sweet corn, available in large quantities for short periods of time. It also buys hard-to-sell items like blemished but otherwise edible produce.

To market local foods to students, UNI started a project called Faces of our Farmers this year. Students now see photos and stories of the farmers that produced the items they pile on their plates in the cafeteria.

Rachel Wobeter, the local food program manager at the Center for Energy and Environmental Education, headed the effort. She and a student photographer traveled around the Cedar Valley this summer, collecting stories of local farmers who sell their products to UNI.

“Once a student does get educated about where their food is coming from they might demand to see more of that. ... That just encourages UNI to continue their commitment to local food,” she said.

Justin Allen, the student photographer, will hold an open house of his artwork on Dec. 5, Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center from 4 to 6 p.m.

Many area farmers have said universities are the most stable economic partnership they have.

When school is in session, UNI purchases about four cattle and four hogs each month from the Gilbertville Meat Locker, located in its namesake about 20 miles from campus.

Jeff Frost, the locker’s owner, said the partnership with the university is extremely valuable for his small business.

“It helps keep us busy when school’s in session,” Frost said. “We have a lot of people from Cedar Falls come down and a lot of the college students they hear of us from up there at UNI. So it helps tremendously; it’s a big impact.”

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©2013 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

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