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 IvanWalsh.com, Flickr
Photo by IvanWalsh.com, 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.

On the Radio: Decorah highlights sustainable living

Photo by marina, Flickr.

Check out this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below.  It features our latest sustainble city – Decorah.

Did you know you can make compost out of worm waste? Many residents in Decorah know it after the third annual Decorah Iowa Green Initiative. Continue reading

New Pioneer Food Co-op turns 40

Photo by plasticdollhouse, Flickr

Iowa City’s New Pioneer Food Co-op is celebrating a major milestone. The co-op has now been around for 40 years.

Their success is attributed to their member-focused style of business. Anyone who signs up for the co-op has the opportunity to offer their input on the organization’s decisions. Continue reading

On the Radio: Regent universities awarded for environmental contributions

Check out this week’s radio segment here.  It discusses the Environmental Excellence Awards received by the state’s regent universities earlier this year.

The sustainability efforts of Iowa’s regent universities have caught the eye of Governor Branstad. Continue reading

New co-op in West Des Moines

Photo by plasticdollhouse, Flickr

Strong community interest succeeded in bringing a new co-op to West Des Moines. The Tallgrass Grocery Co-op, located in the Valley Junction neighborhood, opens in the fall and offers locally grown and produced foods. The Des Moines Register reports that the financial support of locals ensured the co-op’s opening:

Organizers put out a call for supporters on June 6 with the stipulation that they would launch the market only if 200 people committed $100 each to the cause by the end of the month. Unlike a traditional store, co-ops are member-owned, and the Tallgrass founders wanted to ensure the market had the community support it would need to be successful.

The group hit its target number in two weeks with checks coming from across the metro area, said charter member Carlyn Crowe.

This co-op offers peace of mind to those in the Wes Des Moines area concerned with the quality of food available on the market.

“With a co-op, there’s no wondering what is or what might not be in your food,” said Shanen Ebersole, whose family sells grass-fed, hormone-free beef. “Local food going to local people was a system that worked for centuries, and it’s something that a lot of people want to get back to.”