Usually known for industrial-sized farms and animal-processing plants, Iowa may soon be the next state to turn to small-scale and organic farming, according to a recent New York Times article.
The face behind the movement in Iowa is Rob Marqusee, Woodbury County’s dynamic rural economic development director.
A California transplant, Marqusee wants to grab a hold of the rapidly growing organic movement in America and bring it to the farm state to help revitalize a local economy that, like many other rural states across the country, is suffering greatly from the economic downturn.
To do this, Marqusee is using tax incentives for organic farmers.
Though the term “organic” isn’t exactly welcome in Iowa, many farmers, especially the younger set, are slowly coming around to the idea of small-scale farms and an emphasize on organic practices.
In addition, Marqusee is also aggressively promoting locally grown food to businesses and farmers in the hopes of keeping Iowa food in Iowa — a seemingly simple goal that’s surprisingly difficult to accomplish because of red tape and a national food system designed to benefit big agribusiness over small farmers.
As a state with a $200 million food market in Sioux City alone that also imports more than 90 percent of its food, Iowa is the perfect example of a state that is alarming dependent on outside sources for basic necessities like fresh foods.
"It's like the cobbler with no shoes," Marqusee said.
Unfortunately, Iowa is hardly alone in this trend. Many states depend heavily on out-of-state or international sources for their local food supplies.
But that could all change with the increased interest in the local and organic movement. At least, that’s what people are hoping.
To help spur the movement, the USDA recently announced a national campaign that will help expand opportunities for local farmers, focusing specifically on sustainable agriculture.
The "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" campaign, which MNN has previously covered, uses existing federal programs to support local and regional food systems that have been held back by a crazy maze of regulations for farmers that try to do things like sell their products to local schools.
If programs like these actually work, the payback could be enormous.
According to economists at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, if 25 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in Iowa were grown in state, total new sales in Iowa would increase by $140 million. The state would also benefit from $54.2 million in additional labor income for more than 2,000 employees, including 190 who would work on farms, according to the Times.
"It is all about keeping the wealth in the community that creates it," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a meeting in Hamlet, N.C., which was part of a series of town hall-style meetings that Obama administration officials held across the country last summer and fall.
"What happens today is so much of the wealth gets transferred out. ... Wouldn't it be better if we could give it to your local farmers? It seems to me like that would make sense."