For Local Food Systems, Food is Just the Beginning

March 6, 2020

Local food systems that provide everyone with access to good food are an important part of any community. However, as Aubrey Alvarez emphasized in her Sustainable Agriculture Colloquium lecture; "Food is only the beginning." Just South of Ames on I-35, the city of Des Moines is currently working towards an equitable food system due to the work of Eat Greater Des Moines. Eat Greater Des Moines is a non-profit whose mission is to unite the community in providing access to quality food for all. Food systems such as that of Des Moines and the greater Central Iowa region, often require a variety of approaches and a lot of coordination in order to meet the needs of the community, which is where Eat Greater Des Moines steps in. The organization plays a part by enabling linkages between players in the food system to help make sure that food gets to those who need it in a sustainable way. As Executive Director of the organization, Aubrey spoke about the current and future work of the organization in the areas of community gardens, farmers market access, and food rescue.

Aubrey talked about the organizations efforts in  promoting the 30 farmers markets in the Central Iowa area, and helping to expand programs such as "Double-Up Food Bucks" that allow SNAP recipients to receive more locally grown fruits and vegetables for each visit. The organization has also assisted the development of several community farms and gardens in the Des Moines Metro and has found that signage is important to communicate what urban agriculture is, and how they can interact with it. Providing this connection between the community and locally grown food helps in strengthening the bonds between many of the major players in the local food system.

But what about the issue of food waste? It's not a well known fact that nearly 40% of all food produced will wind up being wasted. This is where Eat Greater Des Moines' most exciting work lies; in Food Rescue. Food rescue is where volunteers are able to divert edible, but not eligible to be sold food from winding up in the trash, to being consumed by someone who needs it. Eat Greater Des Moines has worked to coordinate transportation of prepared foods from stores that have policies relating to how long they are allowed to sit on the shelf, to places where the food can be utilized. The organization also developed the "Chow Bank" app that allows donors to list food that has been made available, and then organizations can claim and pick up the meals. Aubrey emphasized just how excited she was to see the app take off and partnerships form for donating meals to those in need. To date, 5.5 million pounds of would-be wasted food have been diverted from the landfill and onto someone's plate. However, Aubrey notes that there is still a lot more work to be done with over 25.5 million pounds of food wasted annually in the area. Through the efforts of Eat Greater Des Moines' efforts, there are some exciting developments in moving towards a more efficient, healthy and equitable food system in the Capital City.


Couldn't make it to the lecture? Catch up with a full recording of this colloquium session here.