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Partnership Promotes Support for Iowa Food Businesses

Vilsack Photo
From left: Gov. Vilsack acknowledges the work of the Iowa Food Policy Council during his news conference with Neil Hamilton and Matt Russell.

CONTACT: Professor Neil Hamilton, 515-271-2065, neil.hamilton@drake.edu;
Matt Russell, 515-271-4956, matthew.russell@drake.edu

During 2006, the Drake University Agricultural Law Center and the office of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack partnered to find new opportunities for Iowans to grow more of what they eat. The Iowa food products coordinator, a position created by the private-public partnership and housed in the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, worked for six months to identify opportunities and challenges for growing the Iowa food economy.

“We are excited by the potential created by this partnership between Drake University and state government,” said Neil Hamilton, director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center and professor of law at the Drake University Law School. “We found that there are opportunities for the state to buy more. State officials at DAS and elsewhere are interested in doing it. And there are Iowa food companies anxious to work with the state. The key is the human capacity to make it work — i.e. the coordinator’s position.”

During his last news conference as Iowa’s 39th governor, Vilsack today thanked members of the Iowa Food Policy Council and Drake University for partnering on initiatives and the pilot program designed to create a network and system to implement recommendations of the Food Policy Council, which include increasing the amount of Iowa food used and purchased by the state.

“I want to thank leaders of the Drake Agricultural Law Center for their support and advocacy on food policy issues,” Gov. Vilsack said. “Thanks to this council, we now have strategies for supporting Iowa farmers and promoting the food we grow in this state. It is my hope that this process will continue to move forward so we can realize new growth and opportunities for our farmers and the agricultural community as a whole.”

“The biggest lesson learned is that the time is ripe for developing a focused effort to grow Iowa’s food economy, and the state, as a buyer of food, can play an important leadership role,” said Matt Russell, an employee of the Drake Ag Law Center who served as the Iowa food products coordinator. “State government can help support more farms growing food crops, new and expanded Iowa food companies, and better infrastructure to handle a food system that is more localized.”

The findings of the six-month pilot program offer opportunities for the state to buy more Iowa products. Mollie Anderson, director of DAS, stated the agency is interested in undertaking this project and Iowa food companies are eager to work with the state. To coordinate these activities, the report suggests funding a coordinator’s position to keep these efforts moving.

The idea for such work originated with Gov. Vilsack’s Iowa Food Policy Council that has been hosted by Drake and chaired by Hamilton for the past six years. In the coming weeks and months, the Department of Administrative Services, Drake, other state agencies and Iowa meat processors will be working together to find opportunities for the state to serve more Iowa products. This work is an ongoing result of the partnership between Drake and Gov. Vilsack. 

“We identified diverse values within Iowa’s food systems and helped the state look at some strategies that will lead to healthier Iowans, stronger rural communities, more resilient farms, and more creative food enterprises,” Hamilton said. “We believe in the value of public-private partnerships to forward innovative projects examining the operation of state government. Iowa is well positioned to lead as Americans look for increasingly complex values associated with food. The state of Iowa can in fact help build local and regional food system capacity.”