Food summit brings together community leaders

Small Towns
Farm and Food

In southwest Iowa, local foods are often overlooked more than in the rest of the state. 

With that in mind, the Southwest Iowa Local Foods Summit, held Nov. 10 in Avoca, was meaningful for the 70-some attendees.

The summit, hosted by the Center for Rural Affairs and Golden Hills RC&D, focused on all aspects of local food and community–from small businesses providing their spaces as session rooms to local farmers and producers serving as exhibitors and selling fresh produce and locally made goods. One entrepreneur made cookies decorated with tomatoes and carrots while another provided local, seasonal flower arrangements.

“You maybe wouldn’t expect it, but a lot of great stuff is happening around local foods in southwest Iowa,” said Angelyn Wang, local foods associate with the Center for Rural Affairs. “This event showcased both that work and the opportunities for growth.”

The one-day summit included educational sessions from regional speakers such as Denise O’Brien from Rolling Acres Farm, Sarah Tanis and Apple Amos of FoodCorps Iowa, Jazzmine Brooks of Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, and Natasha Hegmann of Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Topics included farm to school, grants and funds available for local foods and farmers, rural grocery store initiatives, farm stories, and more, offered in both English and Spanish.

“Presenters, exhibitors, and all who attended are doing really great work in southwest Iowa around local foods, but don’t have many opportunities to come together to build community,” Angelyn said. “We were given a chance to build momentum in this collaborative event.”

Attendees included local food producers, food service directors, teachers, local food advocates, community members, and many others engaging in the local foods sector. We asked a few of them their thoughts on local foods and on attending the summit.

Views on the summit

Latino man with brown hair and smile wearing a white hoodie, standing in front of a grassy area
Sandro Lopes

“I think this conference is a time to connect with people who are involved with rural schools and  beginning farmers. The lessons learned will help us as  beginning farmers to improve our agricultural systems, and  also to connect with people from different places who have been bringing food to their local communities through healthy soil and fresh products. I recently started a regenerative agriculture business. We try to combine Indigenous practices and regenerative agriculture. In our small town, we don’t have a lot of fresh, local food. We just have three farmers at our farmers market, and we are one of them. So, it is time to start on the right path. I’m excited to learn from this experience how we can provide fresh food to our community. I am looking for mentors to help me with the process.”

White woman with blonde hair pulled back, smiling, with blue shirt and black vest standing in front of a grassy area
Hannah North

“It is very important to know what is in your  food. A lot of things that are mass-produced are mass-produced for a reason, and there are things that are put into foods that make them grow faster and stay longer on shelves. I want to know what is in my food. We know our local farmers are not going to mass-produce food for thousands of people, but they will produce something for me and my family to make us healthier and not hurt our bodies.”

Older white woman with glasses and medium length gray hair, wearing a red and black plaid shirt, smiling, standing on a downtown sidewalk
Denise O'Brien

“Local food to me means a thriving rural  economy in our communities … that we have farmers who are growing fruits and vegetables that feed their  communities. I was looking forward to this conference  because of the people, the energy, and the hopefulness I get for the future. In my personal life, I have a greenhouse with starter plants, so I am able to work in the greenhouse during the winter. I am also currently finishing a four-year project building a straw house to live in. I continue to be a part of our community and educate our community on alternative energy, alternative farming, and those sort of things.”

Woman with glasses and medium length gray hair wearing a brown and gray shirt, standing on a downtown sidewalk
Mary Buchanan

“I’m interested in farm to school education and utilizing my small farm and greenhouse as a place for field trips and agricultural education. We grow in our greenhouse year-round. We have greens, herbs, lemons,  limes, figs, and blueberries.”

White woman with glasses and longer blonde hair, wearing a white shirt and a brown sweater, standing in front of a downtown storefront window
Michelle Dill

“It was so great to share and learn about our connections between farm and fork and foster a shared commitment to the vibrant and delicious bounty in our own  backyard.” 

More Photos

Click on each photo to view in a larger frame.

Feature photo: The Local Foods Summit in Avoca, Iowa, brought together food leaders and producers to engage in educational sessions from regional speakers and featuring businesses along Avoca's Main Street, locally-sourced food, and networking time. 

Photo grid #1: Stephanie Cavalier, Family Consumer Sciences teacher at Logan-Magnolia Community Schools, attended the summit to share her experiences with farm-to-school education and learn from others. Logan-Magnolia is a recipient of a farm-to-school mini-grant from the Center.

Photo grid #2: Jan Libbey, with the Iowa Food System Coalition, shared her vision for a thriving, sustainable, and equitable food system in Iowa during the summit as an exhibitor. She was joined by several other nonprofit organizations and government agencies who shared information with participants.

Photo grid #3: Southwest Iowa farmers as well as farm store owners and staff visited with attendees and sold their fresh products. Farmers in attendance included One Farm, Glory Day Farms, Garden of Paradise, Sown Local Foods, and FarmTable Delivery.

Photo grid #4: Rachel Burke, beginning farmer engagement coordinator with Practical Farmers of Iowa, spoke with summit attendees about her organization's programs supporting farmers.

Photo grid #5: Attendees had the opportunity to learn about prairie seeds and take home local ecotype prairie seed. Golden Hills RC&D coordinates a prairie seed collection project each year. To learn more about the project, click here.

Photo grid #6: Sandro Lopes and Michelle Neves Lopes visit with Center staff member, Lucia Schulz, about their experiences at the summit. Lucia provided Spanish language access throughout the event. Sandro and Michelle run Huerto Regenerativo NaTerra farm in David City, Nebraska, and came to learn about local foods and farming opportunities.

Photo grid #7: Angelyn Wang shared her experiences as a farmers market manager with summit attendees. Wang, a Center staff member, served as one of three presenters during a session on farmers market best practices.

Photo grid #8: Center for Rural Affairs staff celebrate the conclusion of a successful summit. Pictured from left: Cynthia Farmer, Deborah Solie, Angelyn Wang, Cait Caughey, Anna Johnson, Lucia Schulz, Sandra Renner, and Kjersten Hyberger.

Photo grid #9: Summit attendees were asked to share their ideas and goals for local foods in southwest Iowa and the challenges they see with implementing that vision.

Photo grid #10: More than 70 attendees shared their knowledge of growing local foods, community engagement, and farm-to-school activities during nine workshops held throughout the day. Pictured from left: Bill Horner, Shad Swanson, Maggie McQuown, and Jan Libbey.

Photo grid #11: FarmTable Procurement and Delivery is a local food hub that brings together fresh, healthy, locally grown food to buyers in Omaha, Des Moines, and southwest Iowa. Sherri Lee with FarmTable coordinated the locally-sourced catering enjoyed by participants.

Photo grid #12: The Center for Rural Affairs organized the summit alongside Lance Brisbois and Jamie Fowler, of Golden Hills RC&D, with support from Amber Mohr of Avoca Main Street. This event was made successful by Avoca Main Street’s connections and support of local businesses and local foods. Pictured from left: Deborah Solie, Angelyn Wang, Cait Caughey, Jamie, Amber, and Lance.