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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.

Black Hawk County Region's Food and Farm Economy: A similar document to that described above; describes the producers, consumers, and provides a general assessment of the food economy of Black Hawk County.

There is much more valuable information at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University that I am busy digging through. I will post more of the important content as I encounter it in the next couple of days.

Food System Atlas for four Iowa counties: Another project by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, these papers, written by Iowa State University sociologist Clare Hinrichs, highlight the work done in each of the four profiled counties (Audubon, Benton, Johnson, and Marshall) to promote the use of local foods, as well as possible future opportunities to use locally produced food.

Some interesting things contained in these papers include:

  • A listing of the "Parts of a Community Food System:
    1. Farms and Food Production
    2. Food Processors
    3. Food Distributors and Wholesalers
    4. Retail Food Outlets
    5. Consumers
    6. Schools
    7. Nursing homes
    8. Restaurants
    9. Hunger Assistance Programs
  • -

  • Statistics on the Direct Marketing of Food in Iowa:
    Total Iowa--------------------1992---------------------1997
    Farms direct marketing--------2,235--------------------2,174
    Total value of sales----------$5,382,000---------------$7,475,000
  • -

  • Facts about the economics of the Counties' food systems:
    I have compiled these facts into a spreadsheet; see attached file entitled "Economic Statistics of Four Counties"
  • Statistics on "What Americans Eat": The amount of certain foods that Americans in general, as well as residents of the four profiled counties, eat. Also includes the amount of fresh foods that these numbers include. I have compiled these numbers into a spreadsheet; see attached file entitled "What do Americans eat?"

These papers can be found at



The information is interesting but less useful in terms of the two target cities in our project. The profiles of the four counties you posted here are not really in the area of either Grinnell or Fairfield.

The four counties surrounding Grinnell would include: Marshall, Tama, Poweshiek, and Jasper.

The four counties surrounding Fairfield include: Wapello, Jefferson, Van Buren, and Davis. Since Fairfield is close enough to Henry county, we might want to include that one too.

For a map of the counties of Iowa go here:

The key question is (and see if you can find anything on this) - what is the radius of impact (draws vendors and customers) for an Iowa Farmer's Market? My guess is that we're talking about no more than a 50 mile radius. See if you can find any research we can point to which confirms this?

As for the research you posted here, "Parts of a Community Food System" is good information. It will be useful for the modeling.

"What the US Eats" per the person in pounds is marginally interesting. But comparing those pounds per person amounts to totals in tons by the four counties you included (in your spreadshieet) is not very useful. You really cannot make any comparison unless the units are the same. And so your data as presented shows very little.

It would be interesting to know how many pounds per person of fresh tomatoes, for example are consumed in county X relative to county Y relative to the state of Iowa relative to the US. If you had this data you could at least see something that might be interesting.

Again, it might be interesting data, but may not be very useful.

Unless you know the source of the data, how it was collected, and what statisic that number respresents (median? average? what?) you cannot compare even data within the same research, on face value only.

In using data from other sources and especially in trying to compare data drawn from more than one source, you must first determine if you are comparing golden apples with golden apples and not golden apples with granny smith apples or worse yet, golden applies with kiwi fruit.

Please do not spend any more time on the 4 counties you've researched.

See what you can find instead on the 8 counties we need to investigate. And if you do any kind of spreadsheet comparisons, make sure that you are comparing the same units across the board. .... dig deeper and wider please.