Food-buy club supports local agriculture


Photo: Matthew Nosco/Iowa State Daily

Hank Taber, ISU professor emeritus in horticulture and local farmer, and Chris Corbin, ISU graduate and local farmer, discuss the benefits of being small-scale producers on Tuesday, Nov. 8, during the Farm to Fork panel discussion. The panel was hosted by ISU Dining Services to examine the food system from local producers to consumers in Ames via retail and ISU Dining locations.

Matthew Nosco

Iowa State and ISU Dining Services hosted a panel centered around the importance and difficulties of local agriculture. One of the common themes among the group of expert panelists was how these small farms can sustain themselves when they either face small orders at fair prices or large orders with lower prices to compete with large commodity agriculture outfits.

A food-buying club in Ames provides a means for farmers to receive support and for Ames residents and ISU students to purchase local fare from a variety of farms in a centralized location.

“Farm to Folk is a way to connect local farmers with consumers who want to buy fresh produce, along with other items like meat, dairy and eggs,” said Marilyn Andersen, the program’s coordinator.

The program offers two different options to its customers: a community-supported agriculture share and an a la carte selection.

“A CSA share allows for a customer to invest in a farmer’s operation before the season, and then to get a share of their produce each week when they begin harvesting,” Andersen said. “The money for the shares go right to the farmers who use it for their up-front costs such as seeds, equipment and living costs.”

Andersen went on to explain that this up-front support can go a long way toward helping these local farmers. In some cases, the funds can prevent them from having to take out more interest-laden loans from the banks.

The a la carte option can help farmers sell extra fare they are having trouble distributing elsewhere. They contact Andersen with the quantities of what they have, and then she uploads the information to the website. The consumer can then go to and select which items they’d like to pick up with a digital shopping cart.

Andersen said that some customers prefer this option because they don’t have to commit to a whole share, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $400 for a season, and can instead pick and choose which items they want each week.

Jan Mitchell, a community member, has been going through Farm to Folk for several years and purchased her first CSA share this year.

“I did my first share with Iowa Fresh Produce, and that was really satisfactory,” Mitchell said. “I’d been doing the a la carte for two years before then, so we’ll see what I do next year.”

Andersen said that although the service isn’t utilized by many undergraduates currently, it could be a valuable resource to ISU students.

“It really encourages a healthy diet that a lot of students don’t have and you have to be able to cook outside of your comfort zone,” Andersen said. “A lot of people, not just students, don’t know at first how to cook something that doesn’t come in a can or a box and we have a newsletter each week with recipes to give you ideas on how to use the produce.”

Farm to Folk also makes an effort to prevent the produce from being wasted when a customer can’t pick up their share. Arrangements can be made to have someone else pick up for you, or if the items are still there at the end of the pick-up schedule, Andersen donates them to local food pantries or the Food at First kitchen.

Pick-ups are weekly on Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m. at the United Church of Christ Congregational, 217 Sixth St. in Ames.