Food System Assessment
In November 2019, the Linn County Food Systems Council (LCFSC) initiated a food system assessment, to better understand the Linn County food system, hear from those working and living in it, and understand how Linn County can improve and build on current infrastructure. With financial help from a matching Wellmark grant, the LCFSC was able to make this assessment possible. The Council went through a competitive bidding process to select New Venture Advisors (NVA), a consulting firm that specializes in food system planning and infrastructure development, to complete the assessment.
With help from NVA, the Council spent the last year conducting the assessment focusing on four key areas in our food system: production, procurement, processing, and barriers to entry and expansion of businesses working within the food system. New Venture Advisors held two series of interviews for key stakeholders and sent surveys out to three different stakeholder groups: growers, buyers, and food businesses. NVA also used secondary research that accessed public and syndicated data to create an overview of the local, regional, and statewide food systems. After synthesizing interview notes and survey responses, NVA put together the baseline of our food system and key recommendations to help drive change. The food system assessment was finalized in November 2020. Below are the highlights and takeaways from the assessment.
To better address our local food system issues, Linn County government and the Food System Council should be providing:
- Education & Engagement
- Expansion & Support
- Linn County has 324,507 acres in agricultural production. Only 312 of these acres are in production for vegetables and fruits. Despite being the second largest county in the state of Iowa, Linn County ranks tenth in vegetable sales.
- Vegetable sales in Linn County grew by 12.2% between 2012 and 2017. In comparison, vegetable sales in Johnson County grew by 97% during that same period.
- Linn County lacks food processing infrastructure: there are no produce processing option and there are no meat lockers processing for resale. This means that Linn County farmers need to transport their produce and/or meat elsewhere for processing.
- In a survey of local produce farmers, all respondents indicated they had access to additional acreage not in production but lacked the markets to support investment of additional fruit and vegetable acres.
- The #1 barrier identified by surveyed farmers in reaching their production goals was a lack of customer knowledge on the value and benefits of buying locally grown products.
Food Systems Council Next Steps
- Assess the barriers preventing meat and produce processors from locating in Linn County.
- Educate county residents on the why and how of eating local and supporting our local producers through targeted education efforts.
- Explore ways we can alter our local regulations to support alternative revenue streams for fruit and vegetable producers.
- Develop and fund a small grant program to assist local producers, food system businesses and non-profits.
- Work with the Board of Supervisors to fund and hire a local food system coordinator to cultivate producer and purchaser relationships, coordinate an educational campaign, and drive forward the diverse and intertwined food system projects identified in the assessment.