The Iowa Food Cooperative began doing business in Central Iowa about 3 years ago. Currently there are more than 500 members and 68 participating producers. Recently a second distribution site was opened, at the Ponderosa Village in West Des Moines, and this summer during peak growing season there were two distribution cycles each month.
The concept of the cooperative is essentially an online farmer’s market. On the first of the month, the shopping cart at iowafood.org “opens”, and members can peruse the list of products, grouped by producers. Members choose what items they want for the month and add them to their shopping cart. Several days after the shopping cart “closes,” producers bring their wares to a rented space at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, where they are accepted and sorted by volunteers. Members arrive later in the day to pick up and pay for their orders.Producers vary widely in their products and offerings, but all share the commonality of being “Made in Iowa”. There are the straight up farmers who market their poultry, beef, lamb, goat, pork, eggs and produce. Most of the beef is grass-fed, poultry is free-range, and sometimes Berkshire pork is available. Meat comes generally frozen and locker-processed. Almost all produce indicates that it has been, if not organically certified, then naturally grown with minimal chemical intervention. Another level of producers are the value added folks, who take their animal or plant products and turn them into food products, such as honey, cheese, summer sausage, jellies and jams. Then come the bakers and candlestick makers—-breads, pies, muffins, fudge, cookies, coffee, candles, soaps, lip balms, yarn, jewelry, candles. Some farmers sell seeds, root stock, plant starts, and whole animals.
The co-op is a great way for a family to get on the Local Food bandwagon. With a minimal annual membership fee, you can place any size order, try different producers, and sample unfamiliar products. Meanwhile, you know that you are supporting local farmers and producers, feeding your family healthy food, and learning to eat “in season.” You can buy just one dozen eggs and a pound of ground beef, or you can be the “Big Spender” like we were the week before Christmas when we offered fresh Iowa foods to the army of international and out of state guests that circulated through our house over the holidays.
— Thanks to my spouse for penning this entry.