It has been more than a year since Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative to encourage conversations about local food systems. In that time, the initiative has strengthened the local foods movement that was already sweeping across the country.
Earlier this month, I met with representatives from Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) in Atlantic, Iowa, to present them with a USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant for $83,000. The funds will be used to provide business and management skills training for up to 15 farm-based businesses in southwest Iowa. This is a great example of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food coming to life.
While Iowa is the leading producer of corn, soybeans, pork and eggs, most Iowans would be surprised to know that only 10 percent of the produce they eat is grown in the state.
Organizations like Golden Hills RC&D are working hard to help meet the growing hunger for local foods. Developing local foods systems can provide fresh, healthy foods to communities and spur the economy by supporting local producers.
During our meeting, local food coordinator Bahia Barry and director Shirley Frederiksen of Golden Hills RC&D joined Nancy Williams and Susan Whitfield with No More Empty Pots in Omaha, Nebraska, for a discussion of the importance of local foods.
“The local foods initiative is both a public health and an economic issue,” said Barry. “It will help end food insecurity and food deserts across the country.”
The training provided by the grant funds will be open to people who want to plant rural gardens, but will also be available to urban neighbors who want to incorporate the same technology into small, urban projects. This is the concept No More Empty Pots strives to achieve as they work to connect individuals and groups to improve the self-sufficiency of both urban and rural communities.
The grant will assist businesses with training, develop two demonstration sites that use vermicomposting (earthworms to turn organic waste into high-quality, mineral rich soil) and aquaculture systems in high-tunnel environments. Both low-cost systems can be used for season extension and year-round growing opportunities. The grant will also assist the RC&D as it works with the Western Iowa Grape Growers Association to help develop an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the Loess Hills region of southwest Iowa.