The Local Food Economy Game is an applied research and social action project of Sohodojo. Our goal is to increase the production and consumption of wholesome foods grown and sold locally. We are developing a web-based exploratory learning environment where folks can have fun while deepening their appreciation of the social and economic impacts of "Buy Fresh, Buy Local."

Local Food System Studies in Iowa

Though I have not had a great deal of success in finding local food economy projects in Iowa, I have found a couple things, which are described below. I will continue to do research on the subject, and this blog will be updated with my findings.

Woodbury County Region's Food and Farm Economy: This web site consists of key points from a presentation by Ken Meter. The document is short; it profiles the farm families in the region in terms of the amount of the states resources they use. It also discusses the consumers of food in the region, and provides a summary of the County's food economy as a whole.

SimFarm

When I met with Professor Andelson last week, I mentioned to him our plan to make a "Sim-esque" simulation, and he lent me his copy of SimFarm. I've been playing around with it and it's pretty neat. It's not a whole lot like what I've envisioned our game to be, but it's probably closer than SimCity or other such games. In this game, you are given an empty plot of land to begin with. It's your job to buy whatever seeds/equipment/chemicals, etc. you want and try to make a productive farm. You can choose the type of farm that you have, as well as the what markets you sell your crops in. You also have to watch out for droughts, changing markets, and other occurrences.

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Information I would like to get from buyers and sellers at Farmers Markets

Things I would like to know about sellers:

  • Why they sell at Farmers Markets
  • What they see as the main benefits of selling at Farmers Markets
  • How consistent and reliable their sales and customers are. Does the Market offer a constant source of income?

Things I would like to know about buyers:

  • Why they shop at Farmers Markets
  • What they see as the main benefits of buying at Farmers Markets
  • What they see as the main benefits of buying locally produced foods
  • What they see as the drawbacks of locally produced food
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My Research Into Iowa Farmer's Markets

Having been unable to find any information on Iowa's Farmers Markets beyond a simple listing by city, date, etc., I did some data analysis of these Markets myself.

First, using a blank map of Iowa, I created a green circle to represent each of the 174 Farmers Markets in Iowa. That map is attached to this post under the name "Farmers Market Map." These circles do not represent the sizes of the markets (information which I could not find), nor do they point to particular cities--only the counties they are in.

Next, I found the population of each Iowa county (US census estimates for 2003 populations were the best available data). I entered these numbers into a Microsoft Excel file, along with the number of Farmers Markets in each county. I then divided the number of Farmers Markets in each county by the population of that county, and multiplied the result by 100000, to get a number that is easier to work with (for example, 12.623 instead of 0.00012623). This number--in column D in the spreadsheet 'Sheet 1'--represents the number of Farmers Markets in each Iowa county per 100,000 residents of that county. A higher number indicates a greater number of Markets per capita, while a '0' indicates that the county has no Farmers Markets. A graph of this information is available in 'Chart 1' in the same document.

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Questions for Farmer's Market Participants

This entry will contain an evolving list of questions to be asked of buyers and sellers at Farmer's Markets. By the time I visit the Fairfield Market (July 22), I hope to have a satisfactory list--though my experiences at the Fairfield Market will surely influence the questions to be asked in the future.

To be asked of buyers:

  • How do you value locally produced foods compared to goods produced elsewhere?
  • How important is the price of the food that you buy?
  • If local grocery stores sold locally produced food, would you buy it?

To be asked of sellers:

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Organizations that develop and support local food economies

This entry will contain on ongoing listing of organizations in Iowa that help to develop and support local food economies:

Practical Farmers of Iowa (www.practicalfarmers.org): "A non-profit, educational organization that began in 1985 and now has over 700 members in Iowa and neighboring states. Our mission is to research, develop and promote profitable, ecologically sound and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture. We carry out diverse programs to assist farmers with both production and marketing needs, to raise public awareness of where food comes from and how it is grown, and to educate youth about agriculture and the environment."

"Local Food and Grinnell College Dining Services"

I have just finished reading "Local Food and Grinnell College Dining Services," a report from an independent study group at Grinnell College in the spring of 2006. Professor Jon Andelson (who lent me the report) was the faculty mentor of these students.

The students convincingly make the case that Grinnell College dining services should increase the percentage of local foods it uses from 5.8%. The argument is based upon five principal factors: helping the environment, nutritional value, support for the local economy, cost effectiveness, and student opinion. These factors are roughly in line with GALFA's "Five Reasons to Buy Local": Taste and freshness, food safety, environmental protection, economic health, and connection (for a detailed explanation of these five factors, see http://web.grinnell.edu/cps/galfa/).

Professor Jon Andelson, and the Grinnell Area Local Foods Alliance

Today, I met with Jon Andelson, Professor of Anthropology and Direction of the Center for Prairie studies at Grinnell College. Among the things that Professor Andelson and I discussed:

  • The Grinnell Area Local Foods Alliance (GALFA), for which Professor Andelson is the Chairperson, originated in 2001 to apply for a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to work with local producers and institutions. GALFA functions as an umbrella for local food projects, as well as a link to encourage relationships between local producers and institutions that can make use of locally foods. According to the GALFA handout, "the Grinnell Area Local Food Alliance is a partnership among several private non-profit organizations and government agencies in and around Grinnell dedicated to drawing the public's attention to the virtues of eating locally produced food and assisting in the further development of a local food system."

Before we begin modeling any thing ....

Before working any further on developing a model of a local food economy, it is clear that we need to know a great deal more about what is being done in Iowa to help develop/drive local support for local food producers.

Farmer's Markets are a pretty obvious example of a local food economy system. Do we have a list yet of how many are in Iowa, where they are located and as much information as we can find about each? If not -- there's a research task that needs some attention.

Farmer's Markets are one thing and we may choose to limit our modeling efforts to only Farmer's Markets this go round. But only understanding the role and importance of Farmer's Markets in the local food economy markets of Iowa is not enough.

The Grinnell Farmer's Market

A summary of my findings after spending an afternoon at the Grinnell Farmer's Market:

I started off by attempting to give people a survey containing the following questions (for buyers):

How do you value locally produced foods compared to goods produced elsewhere?

About the same--- Slightly more --- Much more ---Only buy locally produced food

How important is the price of the food that you buy?

Not at all important ---Somewhat important ---Very important --- Price is the only thing that matters

If Grinnell's grocery stores sold locally produced food, would you buy it?

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