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April 18, 2007

Iowa county treats ag as economic development

MORRIS - The heritage of Woodbury County, Iowa, is built on agriculture and county officials are making policies and fostering future economic development to keep agriculture growing in the county.
Faced with declining population and the loss of the farmers, Woodbury County has taken an active role in promoting the use of local foods and in fostering organic farming, according to Rob Marqusee, director of rural economic development.
"We are agriculture, we have to do what is agriculture-related to succeed in our county" Marqusee said
Monday during a presentation. Marqusee was one of several speakers at the University of Minnesota-Morris as part of a local foods conference.
The county economic development office still works with folks who want to open businesses and shopping centers, but also works with small farmers and understands that business retention starts with small farms on the brink, Marqusee said.
The county efforts began with a June 2005 decision to create mandatory local food purchasing policy for the county jail, juvenile detention and work release programs. The county spends $300,000 annually on food and has not experienced an increase in food costs with the local purchases, Marqusee said.
Cherokee County in Iowa has adopted a similar policy, and two other counties are considering adopting the policy, making a four-county consortium that will be able to promote local foods, Marqusee said. '
Other actions to promote local foods are numerous:
* The county is also working with the local chamber of commerce to promote Woodbury County as the "capital of organic food processing."
* A 100 percent tax rebate is offered to farmers wanting to convert from conventional to organic production The county's Web site includes an exchange to - connect farmers seeking land to farm or offering land for organic farming.
* A cooperative has been formed to.market locally produced meat, fruits, vegetables and baked goods. The cooperative is growing, from 12 producers last year to 30 this year. The cooperative has its own store and has connected with the Whole Foods Market in Omaha, Neb., as a market for those goods.
* Fiona's Firehouse Bistro, a local-organ┬Čic restaurant, has opened in a renovated fire hall in Sioux City, Iowa. The restaurant uses at least 80 percent local ingredients, Marqusee said.
* Other accomplishments include, that the start of an organic growing course of study at a local community college; a yearly, organic growers conference and establishment of a farmland preservation area around Sioux City.
Get more information about Woodbury County online at www.woodbury-ia.com.

Source: West Central Tribune - Willmar, Minn., By Gretchen Schlosser gretchens @wctrib. com