Des Moines (Iowa) Register, January 11, 2006


Vendors will have to buy organically grown foods from nearby areas.

[Rachel's introduction: Woodbury County, Iowa, is taking precautionary action to strengthen the local farm economy and reduce the use of toxic chemicals.]

By Juli Probasco-Sowers

Woodbury County supervisors approved a measure Tuesday that they hope will boost organic farming in western Iowa.

Food vendors working for the county will now have to purchase as many organic food products as possible within a 100-mile radius of Sioux City, according to the new policy.

The program breaks ground in this part of the country, said Rich Perog, marketing and food systems program leader for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

"We've been helping Woodbury County with this initiative and I believe it's the only one of its kind in the Midwest," he said.

County officials want to stimulate economic development in rural areas by adding value to agriculture and spending the taxpayers' money in the county, said Woodbury County Supervisor Mark Monson.

"Organics is a mechanism that would create small businesses," he said.

"Organic farming is something that is booming right now. I'm thinking if we got 1 percent of the agricultural market to go into organic foods it would stimulate a new venue for young folks."

The economic benefit for the county could be thousands of dollars, said Rob Marqusee, rural economic development director for Woodbury County. He is the person who proposed the measure.

The county spends about $462,000 per year on food vendors, with $281,000 of that being actual food costs. The organic food policy would increase those costs by about $9,000, Monson said.

But the local economy would benefit as a result of the dollars spent and re-spent in the region, said Marqusee, who added the policy could be abandoned if costs become prohibitive.

Monson said he has heard a few concerns voiced by traditional farmers worried about chemical use next to organically farmed ground.

Organic farmer Cyril Venner of rural Arcadia said organic farmers usually plant a buffer crop along their property when it adjoins a traditionally farmed field.

Copyright 2005, The Des Moines Register.