Events coming up during the next two weeks

This April is shaping up to be a relatively quiet month in Iowa politics, with the legislature already adjourned for the year. However, after the jump you’ll find details for many events coming up soon. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of an event I’ve left out.

I have also posted information about an internship opportunity for women who would like to work on a sustainable farm, as well as a grant opportunity called “Iowa Sun4Schools.” It’s for Iowa schools that may want to install a solar array: “In addition to supplying electricity to the facility, the solar array will serve as an educational and research tool, and as a symbol of the schools commitment to saving energy and reducing their carbon footprint.”

UPDATE: Iowa nonprofit, charitable and government organizations have until April 16 to nominate people for the Governor’s Volunteer Award.

SECOND UPDATE: The Fred Phelps freak show is coming back to Des Moines on April 10 to protest a constitutional law symposium on same-sex marriage at Drake University. Click here for details about counter-protests being planned.

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Year in review: Bleeding Heartland on food and parenting in 2009

This blog will always be primarily about politics, but I enjoy writing about other subjects from time to time. In fact, one of my new year’s resolutions for Bleeding Heartland is to write more about food and parenting in 2010.

After the jump I’ve compiled links to posts on those topics in 2009. Some of the diaries were political, others are personal. The link I’m most proud of combined the two: My case against Hanna Rosin’s case against breastfeeding.

Any thoughts or suggestions for future topics to cover are welcome in this thread.

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Iowa local foods thread

Congratulations to the Iowa Food Cooperative, which is among 86 recipients of U.S. Department of Agriculture grants under the 2009 Farmers Market Promotion Program. If you live in the Des Moines area, check out what the Iowa Food Cooperative has to offer.

I missed the latest “Sample Sunday” at three farms near Woodward, because my kids wanted to go to the “Renaissance Faire” instead. (Couldn’t do that on Saturday because of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.) I admit that I enjoyed the combination of civil society and “fakelore” at the “faire,” but I would have rather been eating Northern Prairie Chevre cheese and Picket Fence Creamery ice cream than carnival food.

In August and September I absolutely love my weekly boxes of vegetables from One Step at a Time Gardens. Not long ago the largest kohlrabi I’ve ever seen showed up in one box. Apparently it is some kind of European variety that grows very big. I have farm-fresh, chemical-free potatoes as well, so it looks like I’ll be making kohlrabi and potato soup with caraway seeds this week, for the first time since last season.

You can find locally-grown fruits and vegetables in more and more major Iowa grocery stores, but you can often pay less for fresher food by buying directly from farmers. This page lists 126 farmers markets and fruit stands in Iowa. Many other farmers sell out of their trucks in urban parking lots or along country roads.

If you live in northeastern Iowa, I highly recommend the 2009 Buy Fresh Buy Local Food Directory, published by the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership (NIFFP) at the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy & Environmental Education. This guide covers grocers, farmers markets, local food producers and restaurants that serve local foods in Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Chickasaw, Fayette, Floyd, Grundy, Mitchell and Tama counties. To download, go to the UNI’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education site, clicking on “Local Foods” and scrolling down to “Find Local Foods Near You.”

The Iowa Network for Community Agriculture has lots of good links here for consumers interested in local foods.

If you find it hard to incorporate seasonal foods in your diet, it may help to change some of your shopping and cooking habits.

The freshest and most economical food is the food you grow yourself, but I can’t help you there. Our yard is too shady for a garden, and even the tomato plant on our deck was a total failure this summer.

Please share your own local food stories, successes or disappointments in this thread.

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Links to help you find local foods in Iowa

The weather was perfect on Sunday for visiting three farms near Woodward in central Iowa. Yesterday I picked up some grass-fed beef from Wallace Farms. Today I’m looking forward to my weekly box of vegetables from One Step at a Time Gardens. So, it seemed like a good time for another post on finding and eating local food.

For inspiration, check in on Rob Marqusee’s local food challenge. For the whole month of June, Rob is eating only food grown within 100 miles of the Woodbury County Courthouse (located in Sioux City, Iowa). Also, he is not eating any meat. As you can see from his journal (scroll down for the most recent updates), he’s eating well and feeling great despite the “sad moment” when he used up the last bit of his blue corn flour for pancakes.

Few of us are as committed or ambitious as Marqusee, but that doesn’t mean we can’t significantly change the way we eat. A few shifts in your attitude, shopping and cooking habits can make a big difference.

Although your nearby grocery store may sell some local fruits and vegetables in the summer, your best bet is to find a way to buy directly from farmers. This page lists 126 farmers markets and fruit stands in Iowa. Many other farmers sell fresh food in urban parking lots or along country roads.

There’s a fantastic resource for Iowans in the northeastern part of the state: the 2009 Buy Fresh Buy Local Food Directory, published by the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership (NIFFP) at the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy & Environmental Education. This guide covers grocers, farmers markets, local food producers and restaurants that serve local foods in Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Chickasaw, Fayette, Floyd, Grundy, Mitchell and Tama counties. From a press release:

“New additions to the directory this year include a chart that shows the best times to buy Iowa fruits and vegetables, information on how to buy locally grown meat, and a list of 2009 local food events,” says Andrea Geary, NIFFP coordinator.

You can download this guide for free by going to UNI’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education site, clicking on “Local Foods” and scrolling down to “Find Local Foods Near You.”

The Iowa Network for Community Agriculture has lots of good links here for consumers interested in local foods.

Diana Bauman has more local food links, along with recipes and updates on her garden, at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa.

If you live within striking distance of the Des Moines area, consider joining the Iowa Food Cooperative.

Please share your own local food tips or stories in this thread.

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Buy local open thread

Last month a new Iowa Food Cooperative opened at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines. People who join the coop can buy lots of different food produced sustainably in Iowa.

Sustainable Table and Oxfam give you more details on the economic and environmental benefits of buying local food instead of food that’s traveled thousands of miles to your grocery store.

Speaking of which, if you’re lucky, you live in a community with a locally-owned grocery store. These have been on the decline for decades, and they are being squeezed even more now as consumers look for every way to cut costs.

I saw this diary yesterday about a much-loved grocery store closing in Reading, Massachusetts, and it reminded me that I heard Grinnell lost its independent grocer earlier this fall. Can any Bleeding Heartland readers in the Grinnell area confirm?

We are lucky to have several locally-owned grocery stores in the Des Moines area. I like Campbell’s, New City Market and the Gateway Market. Although those stores have a reputation for being expensive, you can save money by buying whole ingredients and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Highly-processed items like frozen dinners or just-add-water side dishes are usually more expensive than cooking from scratch.

You can also save money by cooking with meat less often (or never). Many independent grocers have sections where you can buy grains, beans, pasta and other items in bulk.

Even if you buy high-quality ingredients, cooking at home is usually cheaper than fast food. Via Jill Richardson’s community blog La Vida Locavore I learned that Iowa City’s own chef Kurt Michael Friese recently proved that he can cook a family meal of fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy for less than $10–thereby beating KFC’s “family meal” challenge:

The fast-food joint argues in its latest commercial that you cannot “create a family meal for less than $10.” Their example is the “seven-piece meal deal,” which includes seven pieces of fried chicken, four biscuits, and a side dish — in this case, mashed potatoes with gravy. This is meant to serve a family of four. [..]

I compared commodity products and organic ones, and calculated for each. The market had only one kind of chicken. It was far from the free-range, organic, local chicken I would normally use, but it was hormone-free from a network of family farms and faced nowhere near the cruel conditions suffered by KFC’s chickens. One of the latter would have been even cheaper than the $4.76 I paid for this one. In fairness I should note that the little girl in KFC’s ad asks the butcher for seven pieces, already cut up, but I have faith that a home cook can cut up a whole chicken. I should also note that KFC cuts chicken breasts in half, so there are 10 pieces in a whole bird (four breast halves, two legs, two thighs, two wings).

I rounded up everything I needed for chicken, biscuits, and mashed potatoes with gravy and totaled my costs, accounting for ingredients that were a fraction of a cent (small amounts of spices, for example) by rounding up to $0.01. I must admit I don’t know the seven secret herbs and spices, but as a professional chef, I know you can do an awful lot with salt and pepper. The bottom line? The KFC meal, including Iowa state sales tax of 6 percent, is $10.58. I made the same meal (chicken, four biscuits, mashed potatoes, and gravy) for $7.94 — and I got three extra pieces of chicken and a carcass to use for soup.

Even allowing for the whole batch of 24 biscuits, the meal still comes in at $8.45. In fact, using organic or other high-end items where the market carried them (flour, grapeseed oil, butter, milk), my total bill for the meal came to $10.62.

Click the link to find a GoogleDocs spreadsheet for people who want to check Friese’s math.

If you can afford to eat out, it’s nice to support locally-owned restaurants rather than national chains. Spending your money at local businesses will keep more wealth in your community. I also notice quite a few local restaurants sponsoring charity events or school activities.

The latest issue of the Washington Monthly has a good article by Phillip Longman and T.A. Frank on the resiliency and benefits of old-fashioned community banks. It turns out that

According to FDIC data, the failure rate among big banks (those with assets of $1 billion or more) is seven times greater than among small banks. Moreover, banks with less than $1 billion in assets-what are typically called community banks-are outperforming larger banks on most key measures, such as return on assets, charge-offs for bad loans, and net profit margin.

Small banks are also

a critical source of lending to small businesses. (Community banks make nearly three times as many small business loans on a dollar-for-dollar basis as do large banks, according to the Federal Reserve.)

Mr. desmoinesdem and I ditched Wells Fargo six or seven years ago in favor of a small Iowa-based bank and have gotten better service there. Several small business owners I know are also customers of community banks.

This thread is for any comments related to eating, buying or shopping locally.

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