New doors opening for growers
Many of us caught in today’s on-the-go lifestyle find it easier to stop for fast food and 32-ounce sodas rather than pack a homemade meal.
While Katie Routh, chef and food programs manager at The Wallace Centers of Iowa, understands how convenient it is to include unhealthy processed foods in our diets, she is on a mission to educate Iowans on the importance of eating the right foods for their bodies. “I want consumers to know that they can have it all when it comes to the foods they eat,” Routh says. “The foods we eat can indeed taste good, can be good for you, and they can be very easy to prepare.”
• New program helps producers of locally grown foods add value to what they grow.
• People want to know where their food comes from; more request locally grown.
• Another goal is to help educate Iowans on the importance of eating right.
Routh, a native of Mount Ayr in southwest Iowa, has followed her passion for food and cooking on a 13-year journey that has led her halfway around the world and now back to her rural Iowa roots.
This spring Routh is using her skills as a professional chef to help The Wallace Centers of Iowa develop the center’s newest program called “One Step at a Time.” The program is helping farmers in southwest Iowa add value to the fruit and vegetables they harvest by providing guidance and training on such things as food safety protocols, recipe development and testing, and product placement.
Support local producers
One Step at a Time is being funded, in part, through a $50,000 Rural Business Opportunity Grant awarded through USDA’s Rural Development agency. “More and more people want to know where their food is coming from and are requesting locally grown foods,” says Bill Menner, state director of Rural Development in Iowa. “They also recognize the importance of supporting local producers and local economies.”
Surveys completed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship indicate that sales at farmers markets in Iowa are up 18% since 2004, with direct sales now approaching $40 million. The state has more than 230 farmers markets.
“USDA’s support will enable us to greatly broaden the outreach of our food programming,” says Diane Weiland, chief executive officer of The Wallace Centers of Iowa. “In addition to expanding the restaurant at the Wallace Country Life Center near Orient and adding value to the fruits and vegetables grown there, we will also help other small producers through teaching and mentoring as they work to develop new food products.”
Routh says one of the keys in making the leap from selling produce at a farmers market to having food products appear on gift shop and grocery store shelves is having solid business and marketing plans.
Develop a good plan
Services offered through One Step at a Time help with planning and introduce growers to a network of independent retailers. The program also includes information about food safety and food handling, along with recordkeeping, recipe development, cooking events, workshops and a support system to connect growers.
Growers in Adair, Adams, Cass, Clarke, Decatur, Greene, Guthrie, Madison, Ringgold, Taylor, Union and Warren counties are eligible for assistance. Farmers outside these counties may also contact The Wallace Centers of Iowa for advice.
The program aims to help as many as six local food producers this year and up to eight additional producers in 2013. For information about One Step at a Time, call 641-337-5019 or visit www.wallace.org.
Leach is public information coordinator with USDA Rural Development in Iowa.
This article published in the April, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.