By Steve Yang
There are many reasons Grinnellians eat local: to support the community, to try new things or simply to enjoy fresher and better tasting foods. It is no wonder then that Local Foods Connection (LFC) has enjoyed a warm welcome from the Grinnell community after relocating from Iowa City (in Johnson County) at the end of March. To kick off their time in Grinnell, LFC recently hosted a “Local Foods Fair” at McNally’s Foods on Saturday, April 15, which enjoyed high attendance from students and community members.
Beginning in 1999, the LFC has dedicated its work to “[enhancing] eastern Iowa’s sustainable food system” and increasing the availability of local foods in rural areas. In fact, the organization has already made local foods purchases for upcoming events in Poweshiek County and is continuously working to expand the market for area farmers.
“There is a need in rural communities to help get access to local foods,” said LFC executive director Melissa Dunham, who co-runs Grinnell Heritage Farms with her husband and has been a part of LFC for over a decade. “We raised awareness through the farmers’ fair at McNally’s, and to generate interest and open up dialogue in the community. … Those in need can also have a connection with their farmer and food source.”
In Grinnell and its surrounding areas, the organization has pinpointed different areas of local foods focus, with the intent to smooth over various overlaps and opportunities for collaboration. In the past, LFC has donated to impoverished families who want to eat healthy and avoid the costs of food desertification, which the organization continues to do. In Grinnell, where slightly more than 1 out of every 10 people lives below the poverty line, this service helps bring local foods to tables which otherwise couldn’t afford them.
“I’m upbeat and optimistic about the community: hopeful from their support, and hopeful about support from local farmers,” Dunham explained.
In addition to grant-writing and fundraising, LFC provides new clients with a welcome packet that encourages further learning about the production of food, opportunities to see food produced close to home and an understanding how purchasing local can help farmers in the area. Namely, Dunham referred to the community-supported agriculture, or CSA model.
In the CSA model, clients can buy a share of a farm’s anticipated harvest and receive different baskets of harvest throughout the season. She explained that this gives the farmer insurance that their goods will be purchased, and clients can both enjoy fresh food and relationships with farmers while reducing the financial barrier that buying local can occasionally impose.
“By signing up, you’ll assure them that when they put those seeds in the ground, they’ll have a customer to consume the food when it’s ready,” Dunham said. “It can also better educate people about how and why our food is grown the way it is.”
Dunham is excited by the nearby presence of the College, and encourages students to get involved in future activities and advocacy for food justice work.
“I’m hopeful that the quality of the mission will be equally as strong as Grinnell [College], where … students are very creative, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say,” Dunham said. “Also, you vote with your food dollar at least 3 times a day. If you know where that food is coming from and how it’s grown, you’re doing pretty good. … Try and get to know your local farmer and push that envelope.”