Study by University of Iowa alumnus examines ability to feed communities with local food

This map shows the ability of people to eat locally in different parts of the country. (University of California-Merced)
Nick Fetty | February 3, 2016

A University of California-Merced environmental engineering professor recently published a study which found that most of the country could grow enough food within 50 miles to feed up to 100 percent of a particular area’s population.

Dr. Elliott Campbell’s study – “The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States” – was published as the cover story in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this month. Campbell and his research team used data from a farmland-mapping project funded by the National Science Foundation and information about land productivity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map out the ability of different communities to feed their populations with locally-produced food. Campbell also used data from University of California Global Food Initiative in his study. The researchers examined data for the period between 1850 and 2000.

Campbell said his findings could have an affect on public policy.

“Going into this study, I expected some potential for local food systems and certainly some drawbacks. The overall result was very positive. It’s drawn a strong response from the public, the media and the academic community. And it definitely has the potential to shape public policy. It’s exciting,” he said in a Q&A with the UC Food Observer.

Campbell’s work was lauded by Michael Pollan, an author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC-Berkeley.

“Elliott Campbell’s research is making an important contribution to the national conversation on local food systems,” Pollan said in a press release. “That conversation has been hobbled by too much wishful thinking and not enough hard data — exactly what Campbell is bringing to the table.”

Campbell holds a B.S. and M.S. in environmental engineering from Stanford University and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa. Elliott also served as a researcher for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research during his time at Iowa.

Initiative brings local food to Casey’s stores in Iowa

Soybeans grow on a farm in northwest Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)
Soybeans grow on a farm in northwest Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | October 7, 2015

Casey’s General Store’s renowned breakfast pizza could be tasting a little fresher thanks to a new local initiative.

The Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) has announced it will work with Iowa farmers to supply locally-grown meat, eggs, and cheese to Casey’s General Stores across the state as part of a program known as “Homegrown Food, Homegrown Values.” The initiative aims to not only benefit local economies but also have a positive environmental impact.

“The Iowa Food and Family Project is all about letting consumers know where our food comes from and what farmers do to grow and raise it,” said Iowa FFP Coordinator Lindsey Foss. “We’ve been cultivating these conversations since 2011 about what farmers do to produce safe, quality food and what they do for the environment, and giving back to their communities. And that all embodies their hometown values which is the background on this campaign.”

Casey’s – an Ankeny, Iowa-based company – is the country’s fifth-largest chain of pizza kitchens with nearly 2,000 stores in 14 states, including more than 500 in Iowa.

In addition to Homegrown Food, Homegrown Values, the Iowa FFP also sponsors the Iowa Games as well as Live Healthy Iowa. Iowa FFP also works closely with organizations such as the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Egg Council.

UI Study: More consumers choosing locally-produced foods

A shot from the Iowa City Farmers Market in 2011. (Alan Light/Flickr)
A shot from the Iowa City Farmers Market in 2011. (Alan Light/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | August 27, 2015

A new study by researchers at the University of Iowa finds that American consumers are choosing to shop at local food markets more than ever before.

The study was led by Ion Vasi, an associate professor with joint appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Tippie College of Business, who shared his findings during the American Sociology Association Annual meeting in Chicago last weekend. Vasi found that consumers are supporting local food producers not just because they think the food tastes better but also because they like knowing who grows their food.

“It’s not just about the economical exchange; it’s a relational and ideological exchange as well,” Vasi told Iowa Now.

Farmers markets, food cooperatives, community-supported agriculture providers (CSAs), and other local food markets create what sociologists call a “moralized market,” which allows consumers to combine economic activities with their social values. Vasi’s research found that communities with a strong commitment to civic participation, health, and the environment were more likely to be supportive of local food markets. These markets were also more likely to thrive in areas with higher levels of education and income and where institutions of higher education are located. Researchers on this project conducted 40 interviews with producers and consumers in different local food markets in Iowa and New York.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show there were 8,268 farmers markets in the U.S. in 2014 compared to 3,706 in 2004. The data also show that Iowa currently has 229 farmers markets.

Chipotle restaurants to serve more locally grown produce

Nick Fetty | June 26, 2014
Chipotle burrito bowl. Photo by punctuated; Flickr
Chipotle burrito bowl.
Photo by punctuated; Flickr

Chipotle Mexican Grill has announced plans to purchase more than 20 million pounds of locally grown produce for its restaurants this year, up from 2013’s goal of 15 million pounds.

The Denver-based restaurant chain will rely on 45 local farms around the country to provide bell peppers, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, oregano, red onions, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes when seasonally available. Locally grown avocados and lemons will also be available at select locations.

Recent reports show that consumers are embracing locally grown produce initiatives at restaurants and grocery stores. Locally grown produce was listed as #2 for Top Trends according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Culinary Forecast. The National Grocery Association 2014 Consumer Panel found that 87 percent of consumers regard the availability of locally grown produce as “very/somewhat important” during grocery store visits.

Chipotle has been environmentally sustainable with other efforts such as serving more Responsibly Raised meat than any other restaurant company in the country as well as opening the nation’s first platinum LEED-certified restaurant. Despite these efforts, Chipotle has received criticism for importing beef from Australia and also for misleading advertising campaigns.

There are more than 1,650 Chipotle restaurants nationwide with six locations in Iowa.

UNI to host meeting on farming antibiotic-free chickens and eggs

Photo by, Flickr
Photo by, Flickr

The University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education is educating farmers in order to encourage the use of local, antibiotic-free chickens and eggs.

Tomorrow at 2pm, farmers will meet on UNI’s campus to hear from Tony Halsted – the owner of Hoover’s Hatchery. Halsted will discuss the opportunity and benefits of buying and raising chickens that are locally bred and antibiotic-free.

This meeting is open to the public.

For more information, click here.

The Farmer’s Table brings local farmers and consumers together

Photo by alice_henneman, Flickr.

A monthly dinner event brings Iowans closer to the farmers producing their food.

These dinners, known as The Farmer’s Table, are hosted by Chris Grebner – a personal chef in the Iowa City area. At the dinners, Grebner uses local food to cook a meal for about twenty people at a local farm.

This way, the attendees can meet and talk to the people who produce their food, while enjoying the product.

Read more about these special dinners from The Gazette here.

Check out The Farmer’s Table website here.

UI’s Urban and Regional Planning students help Dubuque assess renewable energy options

Dubuque, Iowa. Photo by yark64, Flickr.

With Alliant Energy’s Dubuque Power Plant closing by 2015, University of Iowa’s Urban and Regional Planning graduate students are working with the city of Dubuque to figure out renewable energy options.

Some of the renewable energy options include ground source heat pumps, solar, wind and biomass.

Another part of the project focuses on linking local food producers to four of the colleges in the area.

Read more about the Dubuque projects here.