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Local food fair connects consumers with area farmers

The Local Food Fair was held at McNally’s Foods on April 14. Photo by Elena Copell.
The Local Food Fair was held at McNally’s Foods on April 14. Photo by Elena Copell.

On Saturday, April 14, local farmers congregated at McNally’s Foods. They brought posters, pamphlets, food samples and business cards in order to introduce themselves and their farms to Grinnell residents. Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., patrons of the grocery store drifted from station to station, connecting with farmers, trying samples and signing up for email lists. Also present were members of Local Food Source, an organization that acts as an online farmer’s market where farmers can sell to local residents on a monthly basis. 

During the fair, shoppers could learn about the farming practices and crops grown at each farm. Several farms set up promotions, from free tomato knives to a drawing to win a wood-fired pizza dinner right on the farm. 

Situated at the front of the store, the food fair also served as a way for Grinnell residents to become familiar with the variety of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organizations in town. CSAs offer a subscription service to receive monthly boxes of produce directly from farmers in the Grinnell area. Members of the community can purchase a share of this year’s harvest well in advance, and will receive their portion of the harvest each month. Some farms choose to provide the same box of produce for every subscriber, while bigger farms might allow their subscribers to customize their boxes each month.

Many farmers who have CSAs appreciate them because they guarantee that their harvest will sell. Additionally, because Grinnell residents typically subscribe before crops are planted, CSAs can reduce the pressure on farmers to search for buyers during the growing season. 

“It’s a way for farmers to get commitments up front … to buy seeds and fertilizer and potting soil … so [they] don’t have to go to a bank,” said local farmer Jordan Scheibel. He stressed the importance of buying directly from farmers, as it benefits both the grower and the consumer. If one dollar is spent through a CSA, “that whole dollar goes to the farmer,” Scheibel said. 

The customer also receives high-quality produce, sometimes to a surprising extent. Andy Dunham, a local farmer with his own CSA, said, “the produce, it’s so fresh. … One of the biggest comments is, ‘hey, I got that bag of spinach and I forgot about it and a month later, it was still good.’” He explained that customers are inclined to believe leafy greens do not last very long because at the grocery store, they might sit around for upwards of 20 days before being purchased, so they only last about five days after being brought home. 

Scheibel runs Middle Way Farm and organized this food fair event under the Local Foods Connection umbrella. Local Foods Connection is an organization that aims to provide access to those who cannot afford local foods. The organization raises money to give to farmers, which they then use to grow food for low-income families.

This is not the first time a local food fair has taken place in Grinnell. Last year, according to Scheibel, it boosted business for McNally’s and connected more people with local CSAs. Because of last year’s success, it was easy to bring farmers back again this year. 

Residents of the town also had good reason to attend — Scheibel characterized fairs of this sort as “a one-stop shop to learn about all their CSA options.” Because Local Food Source was also present, Scheibel said it was an easy way for those looking for local foods to “embrace CSA producers, but also other types of producers.” 

Dunham said that overall, the food fair aims to foster “longer-term relationships between the person eating the food and the person growing the food.” If a customer wanted to join a CSA, he or she could take a business card, or subscribe to an email list to learn more. 

This year’s fair also proved quite popular. Small crowds of people were consistently drawn to the booths throughout the day to discuss everything from how to make the most of CSAs and Grinnell’s Local Food Source, to the wonders of fresh tomatoes. The fair not only exposed shoppers to the different types of food grown  in the vicinity of Grinnell, but also put faces to the farmers who already support much of Grinnell with their harvests. Through education and by example, this food fair highlighted the importance of eating locally and finding joy in every tomato.

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