Kellogg grant gives local food effort huge boost

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

DECORAH, Iowa —When Winneshiek County Extension director Brenda Ranum reflects on the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Coalition’s $500,000 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, she says the stars must have been aligned.

She quickly adds that the group has worked hard to benefit the area.

Two years ago some farmers asked Ranum to help them promote agriculture. This led to meetings to better explain the economics of agriculture to northeast Iowa communities.


One meeting, which Ranum calls a turning point, involved a presentation by economist Ken Meter. He shared information on Winneshiek and Allamakee counties. He showed that farmers were earning less producing crops in 2002 than they were in 1969 despite doubling their productivity.

It was sobering, Ranum said.

Meter showed that Allamakee and Winneshiek counties actually led the state in organic production and sold $611,000 of food directly to consumers. However, nearly all the area’s food dollars went to businesses outside the region.

Ranum said they realized farmers had an opportunity to strengthen their local economy by growing more foods that people could purchase directly from them or local processors and distributors.

The group received a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Marketing and Food Systems Initiative to come up with a plan.

Once the plan was completed, the group received another grant to continue its work. Local funds were also contributed.

With the goal of building a local food system, the group conducted surveys of institutions and what foods they buy now and what they might buy in the future. Surveys looked at what foods are produced in the area, the economic impact, and if there is any processing infrastructure.

"We weren’t writing strategic plans to go after grants," Ranum said. "We met because we wanted to solve our own problems. The Leopold Center was the first outside money we received and that really invigorated us because it meant someone else thought that what we were doing was worthwhile."


In April, the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, which evolved out of the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition, received $500,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to help communities develop ways to promote active living and healthy eating.

The project, co-led by Northeast Iowa Resource, Conservation and Development and ISU Extension, is one of nine nationwide selected as pilots by Kellogg, Ranum said. The northeast Iowa group is the most rural. Each group will work for two years to develop a plan that supports healthy children and families by promoting local healthy food and physical activity and play.

During the two-year planning process, the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative will map out how to increase the availability of healthy local foods in schools, restaurants and grocery stores, improve opportunities for residents to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives and strengthen the public’s understanding of the economic, health and environmental benefits of leading healthier lifestyles.

Groups in Winneshiek, Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette and Howard counties are already meeting and a kickoff celebration will be May 24 at the Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah.

The Food and Farm Coalition has provided grants to producers interested in local food production and a Buy Fresh, Buy Local directory will soon be distributed.

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