ORGANIC FARMING: Local Food Economy

Renew Iowa
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You won’t have a problem finding locally grown fruits and vegetables at area farmers’ markets and certain retail stores this summer. But, it’s a little more difficult to find a big selection of homegrown food at grocery stores many shop at on a weekly basis.

One grower says certain infrastructure is needed to bring more local fruits and vegetables fresh from Iowa farms to area grocery stores.

Harvesting lettuce is a new career path for Eric Morrison. He says, “I was living in Eugene, Oregon, actually for the last decade and I owned and operated an electrical contracting company.”

He and his wife moved back to Iowa last year. Now, they’re two of seven full time seasonal employees working the land at Grinnell Heritage Farm.

Andrew Dunham says, “We’re a family owned farm that’s been in my family since 1857.” He owns and operates the certified organic farm in Grinnell, along with his wife Melissa and his Aunt Janet.

Dunham started the vegetable farm in 2006. At first, he raised about three acres and sold it at farmers’ markets. He says, “We’re up to 15 acres. We double crop about 5, so it’s more like 20, and at the peak of the season, we’ll have 10 full time people.” Now, you’ll find his food at Gateway Market in Des Moines, Tallgrass Grocery Coop in West Des Moines and whole foods when the store opens later this year.

Dunham says, “People are always astounded, you know that the head of lettuce we got from you lasted a month, what did you do to it? Well, we just got it cold really quickly.”

Dunham says they bring the food in fresh from the farm, put it in a cold water bath and allow it to drip dry. Then, they put it in coolers they installed last summer. Showing the coolers he says, “This is just a 2 chamber walk-in cooler. It allows us to harvest produce when it’s at its freshest, take the field heat out quite quickly, so the storage life is quite good. “

Dunham says this is how many California farmers store food. But, it’s an investment. His coolers cost more than $50,000. He says he’ll save about $6,000 by taking advantage of a loan program typically used by corn and soybean farmers. He says, “There’s the facility loans program through FSA, the farm service agency. It’s the same program large cash grain operations use to put up grain bins for corn and soybeans.”

Dunham says investments like his are critical to growing the local food economy. He says, “There is no way we’ll expand the local food economy without infrastructure like this.”

The Grinnell Heritage Farm also sells the vegetables through CSA, or community supported agriculture, shares. The Dunhams drop off the bushels of food at drop off sites in Ames, Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Altoona, in addition to sites in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area.

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