Local Food and the Local Economy

By Marissa Fichter

Clear Lake. It is a wonderful place to live. One of the most endearing
parts about Clear Lake has been its ability to help small, locally-owned
businesses thrive.

However, even with a great local variety of products, we regularly
choose the convenience of driving to a big-box store for routine
purchases. There, we can expect to find a blemish-free tomato and
perfectly sized zucchini. In doing so, we exchange a chance to impact the
local economy for the convenience of a one-stop shop, losing the valuable
relationship with those who produce our food.

Somewhere in our minds, I truly think we desire that relationship. We
also desire to play a part in something bigger, like impacting the number
of local jobs and revenue.

Even so, some think that the idea of a community supporting its local
agricultural system is out of reach. Ultimately, it starts with each one
of us. We can make that impact together.

In fact, a 2013 study conducted by Iowa State University (Enderton,
Bregendahl 2013) comprehensively showed the impact of the local food
economy. It showed that across the state, if the 74 food buyers who
participated in the data collection increased their local food buying from
9 percent to 30 percent of their total food budget, Iowa’’s economy would
gain $21.5 million in one year. That number blows me away. Only 74 people.
When that money is circulating locally, it is more likely to generate
economic growth as well.

It is beneficial in more ways than simply growing Iowa’s economy. When
we purchase locally, we can also be sure that a larger fraction of the
money we spend goes directly to the person who grew and put in the work to
create a beautiful product.

In my opinion, buying local is a great way to show appreciation for the
talents and gifts of others in our community. This simple act also allows
us to know our community deeper. The more faces we recognize and know, the
more we make this little vacation town a “home.”

I encourage you to begin your journey by knowing your farmer. Begin
recognizing the North Iowa Fresh (NIF) labels, the deep red strawberries
from Red Shed Gardens (Forest City), the familiar, sweet flavor of carrots
from One Step at a Time Gardens (Kanawha), and the crunchy sunflower
shoots from Twisted River Farm (Mitchell). Does the sticker on your
butternut squash say it is imported or traveled a long way to make it to
the grocery store, or is the “sticker” a clump of dirt from a
freshly-picked fruit?

It would be nearly impossible for this vision to become a reality if
local goods were only available during a three-hour window every Saturday
morning through the summer. This is why it is necessary that businesses in
the area share the responsibility to support local. It is great getting to
see crops from familiar farms and faces popping up all around North
Iowa.

Those who cannot make it to the Clear Lake Farmer’s Market are not out
of luck. Instead, the same local products and produce are currently
available in multiple locations. One of the largest catalysts making this
possible is North Iowa Fresh. The staff at NIF have worked incredibly hard
making local produce accessible at larger grocery stores like HyVee. NIF
has also sought out smaller businesses like Simply Nourished (local,
organic grocery stocking exclusively chemical-free produce) to sell local
produce as well as restaurants like Fieldhouse (Clear Lake) and Cafe Mir
(Fertile).

This cross-marketing of local produce is allowing local food to make an
appearance in a typical Iowan’s life. The more places this food is
available, the more normal it becomes to buy local over imported.

A huge thank you to the vendors who attend Clear Lake Farmer’s Market
and to other contributors helping to grow the local food market beyond
Saturday mornings. We look forward to the continued growth of a
sustainable, local agricultural economy.