First Farm Crawl educates about buying food locally

Farmers Market Farmers Market

In 2010, 25 percent of the food purchased by UNI Dining Services came from within 250 miles of Cedar Falls, including the local farmer's market.

You know your dentist, you know your doctor, but do you know your farmer? Residents of the Cedar Valley spend nearly $450 million buying foods every year, with another $200 million eating out. Unfortunately, most of those dollars leave our region because very little food we buy comes from our local farms. Imagine if as a region we committed to buying even only 10 percent of our food from farms and processors around us. That would mean $65 million dollars directly invested in our local economy -- creating much needed jobs, and feeding ourselves. 

The University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) has been working with farmers, institutional food buyers and community leaders to strengthen this important economic relationship between the locals and their source of food. This work is done through the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership funded in part by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

A new way to educate residents about local farms was the Farm Crawl that happened on Sept. 11. Hosted by the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership, 10 local farmers from the greater Cedar Valley area participated in this inaugural event. Attendees got to learn how their food is grown while experiencing our beautiful rural landscapes.

Participants traveled as far away as Fredericksburg to the Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch where they toured the 150-year-old farm and hand-fed the buffalo.

"We had around 100 people visit us during the Farm Crawl," said Dan McFarland, owner of Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch. "Getting folks to experience our farm was the main goal. Several people remarked at the success of the Farm Crawl and hoped it would continue."

Other participants chose to take a quick drive to farms that included Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy in Hudson and Friedrich's Fresh Foods in Cedar Falls.

"More than 250 visitors had a chance to see the animals and learn about our milking process," said Jeanne Hansen from Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy. "People loved it, some spent hours out here enjoying the activities and just being on the farm."

"I was very pleased by how many people chose to spend their afternoon on the farm with their families and friends," said Andrea Geary, local food program manager for the CEEE. "It was wonderful to get to experience the look of amazement displayed by so many kids as they experienced first-hand how their food is grown. With a few improvements to the event, we will happily be hosting Farm Crawl 2012."

This year's Farm Crawl isn't the only way the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership entices people to buy their food locally. A few exciting initiatives in the Cedar Valley include the Buy Fresh Buy Local program, which has facilitated $12.5 million worth of meat and produce purchases from hundreds of area farmers by food vending institutions since 1998, and in 2010, 25 percent of the food purchased by UNI Dining Services came from within 250 miles of Cedar Falls.

For more information about the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership and farms that participated in this year's Farm Crawl, visit www.ceee.uni.edu.

Hanson's Dairy

Hansen's Dairy Farm was one of 10 farms that participated in the first-ever Farm Crawl.
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