Iowa imports 88 percent of its food?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

No, it's not a "Jeopardy" answer, it's a fact, according to Steven Smith, who been moderating discussions all over the state to find ways to get more food grown and consumed locally.

Iowa, which for decades has led the nation in production of corn, soybeans and hogs, trucks in the vast majority of the food that we buy in grocery stores.

According to Smith, Iowa once led the nation in tomato production and was third in grape production. Now, we import 88 percent of the food we eat. The food we buy at our grocery stores averages a journey of 1,500 miles before we consume it. Increasing the amount of locally grown food available for purchase by 10 percent would keep millions of dollars in our local economy.

So it makes sense from an economic standpoint.

Nutrition experts often cite the shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables as one of the underlying causes of obesity. Making these foods more readily available and affordable is one of the concepts being explored to help combat obesity.

So it makes sense from a wellness perspective.

Food safety is another part of the picture. During the spinach E. coli scare, Smith said he heard a national food safety spokesperson say that local farmers' market produce was the safest thing to buy. Having local accountability and responsibility between the producer and consumer is another check and balance when it comes to food safety. Knowing the people who made your food, from seed to plate, adds a level of confidence in the food supply.

So it makes sense from a public health standpoint.

The notion of growing and consuming locally produced food may seem quaint and hopelessly out of the past, but it makes sense from many standpoints. Enough sense that it should be explored further.