It's not feasible to eat only local food but making a small change in your buying habits could help the local economy and the environment. It may not be much but a meeting on an icy night in downtown Elkader may be part of the start of a food revolution.
Clayton County food producers are trying to determine how best to work together to encourage more people buy locally-grown food.
"Certainly it's very possible to keep a large percentage of what we produce here locally. I think that's the key. We're not going to be able to grow a pineapple here but certainly there are fruits and vegetables we can grow and consume locally and extend the life of," says Dan Lane of Clayton County's ISU Extension office.
The Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition, or NIFF, is made up of people in Howard, Winneshiek, Allamakee, Clayton and Fayette Counties where farms are typically smaller in size. Lauren and Brenda Plozay raise poultry on an organic farm near St. Olaf.
"I think we all have to work together. I think instead of viewing each other as competition, I think there's enough of a market for everybody out there," says Brenda Plozay.
A recent survey shows 48% of people in northeast Iowa would buy locally grown food but many are unable to find it. 53% are willing to go out of their way to buy locally produced food. It's a huge opportunity for growers.
People in the five county area spend $193 million on food but local producers get less than 1% of that. Many at the meeting also believe in the environmental aspect of locally grown food.
"If you don't have to truck something from across the country to get it here, you certainly are reducing the carbon load being produced in the U.S.," says Lane.
"It is a matter of changing minds and of course there are more people that think along those lines but even if there aren't any more, every little bit counts. Obviously the more there is the better it is and the more impact you can make. Each little bit helps," says local producer Lon Lindenberg.
But first, a local food system must be put in place.
"It's like anything. An engine doesn't start up and run at full speed. It's gotta start slow and grow from that point forward so we've got to start the engine and get it rolling," says Lane.
And it may have started in Elkader on an icy February night.. The NIFF Coalition points to the very successful Oneota Co-op in Decorah as a success story. In only its third year, the co-op has moved from a small corner office to the size of a grocery store.