116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
What does it take to get lettuce to Lawler, mushrooms to Monona and dairy to Decorah?
It takes a network of nonprofits called food hubs that connect producers with schools, restaurants and grocery stores that want to buy local fresh food.
The Iowa Food Hub, based in Decorah, distributes locally-sourced food within Allamakee, Clayton, Chickasaw, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties.
The organization will use a new $18,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship toward a larger refrigerated truck so they can transport more food farther, General Manager Peter Kraus said.
“During these winter months, we can help a lot of the storage crops get around,” he said. “Often one farmer has all the sweet potatoes and another has all the onions. It helps give us more diversity and breadth of products to offer.”
The Iowa Food Hub was one of 13 Iowa farmers, businesses and nonprofits to receive a total $250,000 in state grants to increase or diversify their agricultural product offerings through the Choose Iowa Grant Program.
“Iowa agriculture is the envy of the world as our farmers continue to lead the way in producing healthy, high-quality, affordable food. It is essential that consumers have access to the Iowa-grown products they know and love,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said in a prepared statement. “The Choose Iowa grant program makes this possible through value-added projects that help Iowans grow their businesses and access new markets.”
Funded projects include dairies, meat lockers, beverage producers, a flower producer and several community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations.
The Iowa Food Hub started in 2012 as a CSA, but has evolved into a farm-to-school provider that connects a half-dozen school districts with Eastern Iowa producers who can supply fresh food for school lunches, Kraus said.
Schools are out in the summer when produce is most plentiful. For this reason, the Iowa Food Hub has expanded to connecting restaurants and grocery stores with local producers.
“I’ve been really interested in what we can do in the summertime to utilize our existing routes and refrigerated trucks,” Kraus said. “Brewers and cideries are really interested in local fruit. That’s an untapped area. There also are early childhood centers and summer camps.”
The nonprofit also has a state block grant to work with seven or eight other food hubs in the state to stitch together service areas so there are fewer fresh food deserts. The Ag Department also plans to contract with food banks and food hubs to buy more local food and distribute it directly to Iowans in need, Kraus said.
“It’s only a couple of years, but we hope to grow from it and build new relationships that didn’t exist before,” he said. “We want to connect the food hubs to build a local food system.”
The Iowa Food Hub has three part-time employees in addition to Kraus, who works full time. Kraus hopes to buy the new refrigerated truck by June, but it depends on when they can find a secondhand truck with low miles.
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