Program connects Iowa farmers with underserved communities

Locally grown crops.
Locally grown crops.
Published: Jul. 10, 2022 at 8:04 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A new program is helping to connect locally-grown food to underserved people in eastern Iowa communities.

Sabokwigura Jonathan has lived in the U.S. for several years, after immigrating to the United States from Tanzania in a refugee camp. In Tanzania, he used to farm.

“I was farming just to hustle, I will say it that way,” Jonathan said.

Now, he hopes to make farming his full-time job.

“I like it and it looks like Iowa is for farmers,” Jonathan said. “So I should be one of them.”

A new program through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship aims to help farmers like Jonathan. According to the department, the program is expected to “bring $1.8 million to farmers for food grown, raises, and processed in Iowa.”

Jonathan said growing food was actually not the difficult part of farming.

“You know, back home you will have to be—till the whole farm by hand. But here we use machines. You will have to irrigate by hand, but here we use the drip irrigation,” Jonathan said. “So, some of the things are easy. So, it’s not that hard.”

The difficult parts are the business aspects.

“Growing crops is easy if you really know what you’re doing. But selling it,” Jonathan said.

Jonathan is in his first year of a three-year program run through Feed Iowa First. The program provides farmers with land, irrigation, and seed-starting facilities as well as helps them set up an LLC and get connected with markets. Jonathan said he chose a half-acre through the program, rather than a larger plot of land, because he was worried about the business side of farming.

“I don’t want to grow a lot and then end up just losing it because of lack of customers,” Jonathan said.

The program is designed to help farmers find more economic opportunities. At the same time, it provides fresh, local produce to food hubs and pantries.

Kim Guardado, Food Reservoir Director at the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, said the IDALS grant is helpful considering the inflation the country is experiencing right now.

“With the increased need that we’ve seen in the last few months, there’s a lot more people that are looking for food,” Guardado said.

Inflation along with increased demand also means that HACAP is already experiencing a shortage.

Guardado did say the program is still getting up and running.

“We’re just getting ready to have a larger statewide meeting in a couple of weeks where we’ll begin more in-depth planning,” Guardado said. “And then we hope to start reaching out to local producers shortly after that.”

Guardado adds that HACAP hopes to have everything operational by August 1.

“IDALS has already signed the contract with the USDA, so it’s just us making sure we have all of our ducks in a row to be able to get started,” Guardado said.

Jonathan recently made his first sale on July 7, and it was actually to HACAP. He now knows first-hand how helpful the program could be for other socially disadvantaged farmers like him.

“You sell 100 pounds in just minutes. You know, if you go to the farmers market, I don’t think I’ll be able to sell 100 pounds in one day,” Jonathan said. “So that’s really very beneficial to me.”

Guardado added that HACAP plans help expedite the transaction through a “producer vetting process” that will allow local producers to participate just by filling out a short application.

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