Iowa Food Hub helps people eat local

Residents of Driftless are quick to brag about being “local”. Buy from family businesses, wear clothes that promote their piece of paradise, tell tourists about all the myriad places they need to see, even read their local news fervently. It all adds up to a sense of pride unmatched by any place in the Midwest. However, one of Driftless’ biggest initiatives is about local food. Year-round, locals are driven to farmers’ markets, co-ops, or their only friend making horseradish in their garage, with ingredients they’ve grown in their backyard.
The Driftless is farming country, with an abundance of local produce to fill anyone’s pantry. Yet there is the question of how to get all this generosity to the people. That’s where the Iowa Food Hub (IFH) comes in. Founded in 2012, this Decorah-based nonprofit has been quietly boosting pride in local cuisine for a decade — the longest of any in the world. State. Speaking with IFH’s Managing Director, Peter Kraus, one can see a pride in eating local embodied.

What is the Iowa Food Hub?
Basically, IFH serves as a distribution service for local food products, whether it’s flour, cold cuts, peppers, sunflower oil, mushrooms, onions, potatoes or a litany of other products. IFH’s job is to connect with small and medium-sized farmers and ensure their products reach those who need them. In recent years, this has taken shape in their “farm-to-school supply” program, which Kraus has called their “primary program.”
In his own words, “all the children in the region eat local food every day”, thanks to the initiatives of the IFH. They source their food from area farmers and, through their contracts with food wholesalers such as Luther College, Decorah Community School District, Postville Schools and Waukon Schools, the next generation of Driftless earns what Kraus equates to “a lot of pride in their region”. .” They also deliver to Turkey Valley, New Hampton, Spring Grove and a few schools in Wisconsin, according to Kraus.

Online Farmer’s Market
Additionally, for the out-of-school crowd, IFH is dedicated to providing local food for the rest of the public. This is taking shape via a new IFH initiative: the online farmers market. Founded in 2020 out of necessity during the pandemic, the online farmer’s market allows customers to buy local produce online from the farms of their choice. From there, products are either delivered (if in the Decorah area) or dropped off for pickup at multiple locations in Waukon, West Union, Calmar, or Postville.
The online market was designed to help farmers not only during the pandemic, but also during the colder months when they cannot get to the stalls. “Ninety percent of the money raised [via the online market] goes to farmers, so there is also an economic impact,” Kraus said. Also, convenience is a factor. Kraus pointed out: “Instead of sitting at a stall for three hours hoping to sell something, and maybe not, customers can choose the food they want when they want it, so farmers don’t have to do much.” When people buy food online at the market, Kraus and his team pick up the goods, bring them back to The Kitchen at Spectrum in Decorah (which serves as their base), and then prepare them for delivery.
Of the collaboration with Spectrum, Kraus said, “We’ve helped each other grow together.” Spectrum serves as a quasi-owner for the IFH, but Kraus made sure to note that they’ve been a great ally over the years. “Our missions work together in many ways, working toward food access and service in the community,” he added. IFH uses refrigeration and freezer space in The Kitchen – Kraus going so far as to build his own freezer in a room at the back of the building – as well as working with different The Kitchen customers in a variety of ways, such as light processing of vegetables.

Fund raising
When they have the food, then comes the trickiest part. Kraus handles most of the delivery, making sure to get to schools on Tuesdays, drop off at Decorah on Fridays, and then pick up from farmers the rest of the week. As if that weren’t enough driving, the IFH is also expected to connect to all of the state’s food centers, adding even more mileage. As a result, Kraus said he needs some upgrades.
“That’s a lot of miles for an old truck like ours,” Kraus explained. So, IFH is fundraising for a new truck to add to their fleet, although they need help. Kraus mentioned that there is a GoFundMe page for those wishing to donate, available at gofundme.com/f/bigger-truck-for-the-food-hub. Additionally, donations can be received in the online marketplace, by adding the item “IFH Donation – Truck Fund” along with the food items. IFH estimates they will need around $36,000 to purchase a used delivery truck, but they have already secured a third of that cost.
Once the truck is purchased, business is business as usual – at a much higher level. For Peter Kraus, although the work is “pretty relentless”, it is also “so rewarding”. The people of Driftless are already proud of their location, now imagine how proud they would be if they could have the experience of eating local food. To eat the Driftless yourself, go to iowa-food-hub.myshopify.com