AMES, Iowa -- Mirroring the growing national movement in regional food production, Iowans have shown increased interest in the availability of locally produced fruits and vegetables. Work in the state to develop regional food systems is providing new farming and community development opportunities, while improving access to healthy foods.

Iowa State University has a long history of research and extension efforts related to fruit and vegetable production across the state. Now steps are being taken to enhance those efforts.

"Even in these difficult financial times, we've found a way for Iowa State to continue its investment in an area that is critical to Iowans," said Wendy Wintersteen, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean. "By coordinating our efforts among the College, ISU Extension and the Leopold Center, the economic viability of regional food systems in the state will improve."

Wintersteen said faculty members in several departments conduct research, demonstration and educational programs in food crop production, food safety and nutrition, and the economics of producing and selling food crops.

Yet the recent retirements of Henry Taber, a horticulture professor who specialized in commodity vegetable production, and Eldon Everhart, horticulture extension field specialist, combined with budget cuts, reduced Iowa State's capacity to continue this important work.

"For Iowa fruit and vegetable producers to expand on their current success, they need a coordinated effort that promotes research, education and cooperation between growers, marketers and the end user," said John Lawrence, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences associate dean and director of agriculture and natural resources extension.

Lawrence said the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has been a national leader in moving fruit and vegetable production from a hobby to a viable business. New funding from the Leopold Center of $80,000 per year for three years will help support two positions. The funds come from an anonymous gift received by the Leopold Center.

The positions will work closely with the Leopold Center in local food systems research and education statewide and be actively involved in fruit and vegetable and regional food systems work groups supported by the Leopold Center.

In the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a state specialist will be hired to conduct an applied research and extension program in vegetable and small fruit crop production.

The College already has two horticulture professors who work in commercial fruit production — Gail Nonnecke and Paul Domoto. In addition, there are six positions involved in fruit and vegetable research and demonstration at the Muscatine Island, Armstrong and Horticulture Station research farms.

ISU Extension will hire a field specialist for central and western Iowa to focus on vegetable and small fruit production and handling. That person will join Patrick O'Malley, a food crops horticultural specialist who works in eastern Iowa.

One current extension employee's focus will shift. Craig Chase, a farm management specialist with experience in food crops, niche markets and community kitchens, will move more fully into regional food systems work by this fall.

The process to fill the two open positions is underway. Once the three-year bridge funding from the Leopold Center ends, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and ISU Extension will take over full funding of the positions.

SOURCE: Iowa State.