Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Eco Barn hosts food hub managers

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | May 08, 2018
Source: PHOTO COURTESY OF BOB FERGUSON Barb Stone, right, executive director of the Southeast Iowa Food Hub, speaks to guests of the state food hub managers meeting April 5 at Abundance EcoVillage.

The Eco Barn near Abundance EcoVillage has been the site of several workshops and activities in the past month.

On April 5, the barn hosted a state meeting of food hub managers. Food hub managers are the people who run organizations for distributing local foods such as community supported agriculture.

Barbara Stone, executive director of the Southeast Iowa Food Hub, said it was the largest meeting in the history of the state organization, with 35 managers attending. While in Fairfield, the managers toured Radiance Dairy and other local food operations.

Stone said the purpose of the manager meetings is to find ways of connecting local food producers with consumers. For instance, one of the state organization’s goals is pushing local food in metropolitan markets like Des Moines. Another is coordinating the producers into a group with a spokesperson, which will facilitate sales to grocery stores.

Stone said she hopes the organization can help achieve food security and self-sufficiency for Iowans.

Bob Ferguson, executive director of the Sustainable Living Coalition, said managers are seeking to pool their resources around the state, while also educating the community about the benefits of locally grown food.



One part of the event was a forum where producers talked about their products and how they’re getting them to market. Ferguson said he heard great feedback from participating food manufacturers.

The Southeast Iowa Food Hub seeks to help beginning farmers or those who are transitioning to organic farming. Ferguson said the state food hubs collectively received a three-year, $300,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop local hubs. The hub in southeast Iowa receives $10,000 per year.

Part of the money was spent to hire Tera Johnson, who put on a financial boot camp for food start-ups in Marshalltown. Ferguson and Stone attended the event and quickly bonded with Johnson. They asked her to do a similar boot camp in Fairfield, which she did April 9-10 and planned to do again in May.

Ferguson said Johnson plans to return to Fairfield in July or August for a multiday seminar to develop food manufacturing in the city.

“Tera feels that local manufacturers can do more of their work in rural areas, which will provide more jobs and more vitality,” he said. “Rather than try to model factories after huge plants, the businesses could be small-scale but still achieve national level distribution.”

Ferguson said that, with the necessary infrastructure, Fairfield could become a “food manufacturing powerhouse.”


Other programs

EcoVillage has allowed the Daisy Girl Scouts to have their own garden plot south of the Eco Barn. It has invited Maharishi University of Management’s sustainable living program to plant orchards on permaculture installations such as berries or nuts.

Ferguson said he and others want the Eco Barn to host more retreats and meeting locations. He said the school district had a meeting there in April.

“The building is a 2,000 square-foot straw-bale constructed pole barn,” he said. “It’s heated by a pellet stove that uses sawdust pellets. It’s comfortable even when it’s 20 below outside.”

Ferguson said his dream is to build a guesthouse at EcoVillage. He’d like to build a video conference facility to allow people to virtually attend the meetings held at the barn.

“We want to be the center of issues such as social justice and hunger alleviation,” Ferguson said.






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