Revive the Iowa Food Policy Council

Over the weekend I talked with lots of people who attended the Community Food Security Coalition’s annual conference in Des Moines. Good programs in Iowa and other states are encouraging more people to eat food produced on nearby farms. Iowans have long supported our farmer’s markets, but we could be doing more to promote and expand our local food networks.

One step in the right direction would be for Governor Chet Culver to revive the Iowa Food Policy Council, which functioned from 2001 to 2004. (The council’s reports are available here.) Hear me out after the jump.

I know what you’re thinking: this state doesn’t have the money for another council. That’s what I said to some of the people I spoke with over the weekend. However, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has become a strong advocate of local food networks, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has money available to support state bodies working toward this goal. Several Iowans who are knowledgeable in this area are confident that USDA funds could be secured for a new Iowa Food Policy Council, especially since Vilsack created a similar body when he was governor.

All that’s needed is a new executive order from Culver. His staff wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel either; something modeled on the executive order Vilsack issued would do just fine.

Francis Thicke is promising to revive the Iowa Food Policy Council if he is elected Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, but we shouldn’t have to wait that long.

I’ve been told that supporters of bringing back the Iowa Food Policy Council sought a meeting with Culver’s staff long ago. They had some trouble getting a meeting scheduled, and then the staffer spent less than 10 minutes with them before saying, in effect, we’ll call you if we’re interested. They never heard back.

I would encourage local food advocates to raise this issue again. I know the governor’s got a lot on his plate, but it sounds as if his new chief of staff, John Frew, is whipping that office into shape. It wouldn’t take long to draft a new executive order. Let the advocates do the legwork to secure USDA funding or private grants. If they fail, Iowa hasn’t lost anything, but if they succeed, the economic and health benefits could be substantial:

*About 80% of the $8 billion worth of food consumed in Iowa comes from out of state. Growing more of our food in Iowa represents a multi-billion dollar economic development opportunity.  This potential economic activity could create thousands of new jobs and help revitalize rural communities in Iowa, as well as provide Iowans with fresh, nutritious food.

*If Iowans ate the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and Iowa farmers supplied that produce for just three months of the year, production and marketing for these additional crops would add $302.4 million and 4,094 jobs to Iowa’s economy, according to analyses by ISU economist David Swenson.

*Locally grown food can be fresher, tastier, and higher in nutritional value because it can be harvested at peak ripeness, instead of being harvested prematurely so it can withstand long-distance transport.

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