How do you create a local food system? On August 31, in JRC 101, at 4:00 and 7:30 p.m., two speakers will share their experiences creating local food systems in two very different locations: the Bay Area of San Francisco and the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County, Iowa.
More and more people are interested in eating food raised near where they live. It is fresher, tastes better, and is often more nutritious. Because it is produced on a smaller scale, it is more likely to be raised using organic methods, which make it healthier. Purchasing food grown near where you live also contributes more to the local economy than buying the same food from big retail grocers.
But “buying local” can face challenges. Is supply adequate to meet the demand? How do consumers connect with farmers? Are the types of food being raised locally also the types that consumers want? Is local food out of the price range of many consumers? If locally raised food is normally available for only part of the year, can anything be done to lengthen the growing season or make the food available year-round?
Answers to many of these questions can be found through the creation of local food systems. Going beyond ad hoc relationships and even such worthy organizations as farmers markets, a local food system is a coordinated, self-consciously planned set of institutionalized relationships among farmers, consumers, businesses, and communities, structured in a way that maximizes the availability of affordable local food to members of a community.
Jennifer Vazquez-Koster has been working on local food initiatives in Iowa for 10 years. She is currently manager of the two-year old Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative, an umbrella that encompasses three garden-farm operations at the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County: a senior garden affiliated with the senior living center at the Settlement, a school garden, and Red Earth Gardens, a large-scale commercial organic operation that sells produce through a Tribally Supported Agriculture (TSA) program, a farm stand, and area grocery stores. The concept behind “food sovereignty” is for the Meskwaki to reclaim their food system from the national industrial food and agriculture system.
Thomas Nelson ‘91 has been instrumental in advancing the local food system in the San Francisco Bay Area. He launched a community-based social enterprise, Capay Valley Farm Shop, which connects 54 farms and ranches in the Capay Valley to Bay Area families and businesses, in the latter category focusing on tech companies, online grocery, and neighborhood businesses. He is also a business advisor at Kitchen Table Advisors, a non-profit that works with beginning farmers to help them market their products. He also serves on the board of California FarmLink, established in 1999, which has created a statewide program of economic development support for beginning, limited-resource, immigrant and other underserved farmers across the state.
Jennifer Vazquez-Koster will speak on “Beginning a Local Food System at the Meskwaki Settlement” at 4:00 p.m. and Thomas Nelson will speak on "Community-based Strategies to Scale Up Sustainable Food Systems" at 7:30 p.m. Both presentations are in Joe Rosenfield Center ’25 101. Refreshments will be served. Sponsored by the Grinnell College Center for Prairie Studies.