As I have been discussing Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food with producers and local-food advocates across Iowa, one thing has become quite evident: access to capital is a huge barrier. In fact, at a meeting last month to develop an Iowa Food and Farm Plan that will be presented to the state legislature, access to traditional financing was listed as a major obstacle.
At the same time, USDA has a newly signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Small Business Administration to encourage sustainable growth and development of rural small businesses. The SBA state director and I collaborate frequently anyway, but we thought the MOU was an opportunity to highlight our close working relationship. We, in partnership with the Small Business Development Centers, the Iowa Department of Economic Development and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, devised a series of Business Resource Roundtables to be held across the state in August.
The roundtables are targeted toward business owners, bankers, community leaders, economic developers and elected officials. They will focus, in part, on traditional access to business resources and federal/state funding opportunities. But, they will also present learning opportunities for producers, entrepreneurs, and others interested in expanding their role in local food systems.
For example, in Iowa we have a strong network of local food advocates ranging from USDA to the Leopold Center to ISU Extension to the Drake University Ag Law Center to the Practical Farmers of Iowa. The state has seen more than 130 food-system projects in the last ten years and a number of regional food networks have emerged recently. That includes the innovative Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, a six-county effort that is part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food & Community program.
Despite these successes, we know we can do better. Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food pulls together USDA resources from across the Department that can assist local producers. The roundtables will give us an opportunity to share the vision of Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Merrigan in this area and underscore the role the agency can play in partnership with others. I also expect a lively dialogue as we consider both the resources and the challenges that still exist.
All forums will be from 9:30-11:30am and will be held:
- Tuesday, August 10th in Ames
- Wednesday, August 11th in Sioux City
- Thursday, August 12th in Red Oak
- Tuesday, August 17th in Cedar Falls
- Wednesday, August 18th in Ottumwa.
Registration is encouraged as seating is limited. Click here for specific meeting locations and to register, and for more information about the forums please contact Shannon Chase with USDA Rural Development at (515) 284-4663.