Field to Family Food Hub creates a wholesale option for local food


Hayden Froehlich

Michelle Kenyon, director of Field to Family, speaks about the organization’s mission at the grand opening of Field to Family at Table to Table on Thursday, October 3rd, 2019.

Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

Local foods are widely available at the Iowa City Farmers Market or in area grocers — but bringing local foods to a large operation such as a dining hall can be a challenge. 

Iowa City Field to Family aims to provide an option to provide the wholesale distribution of local foods with a project known as a food hub. 

The hub, which contains food from 24 local farms within a 70-mile radius of Iowa City, provides a bridge between local farmers and large-scale food operations. 

Field to Family Director Michelle Kenyon said there is a gap providing local options to places such as schools and hospitals that have to produce large-scale food distributions, and that the Field to Family food hub can help serve this need. 

“The gap in the market is not so much retail — the farmers market and grocery stores are beating that gap,” Kenyon said. “The gap in our food system was the wholesale market.”

In 2010, Field to Family began partnering with the Iowa City School District to bring local foods into school lunches. Kenyon said there are many challenges that come with distributing local foods on a wholesale level, meeting strict food safety and nutritional demands. 

After years of partnering with Iowa City schools, Kenyon said Field to Family met 100 percent of the district’s demands for local foods in 2018.

“Our farmers just weren’t ready for [the demand] in 2011,” Kenyon said. “But they built their capacity more and more, and become more and more ready, and last year we were able to meet all of their demands, and this year we’re planning to add more to the menu.” 

Field to Family is also partnering with UI Housing and Dining to bring local food options to campus. 

UI Dining Director Jill Irvin said local products are being implemented in different areas across the campus. 

“We use a lot of their products for catering, because we don’t need as much quantity. We buy a lot of it in our cold food production kitchen — they make all of the sandwiches and salads in our retail locations,” Irvin said. 

Kenyon said the overarching goal of the food hub is to cut the amount of food imported from other states and countries to Iowa stores and restaurants. 

“Ultimately we’re looking at drastically cutting the amount that the state of Iowa imports,” she said. “We import far too much of our food: upward of 80 percent … We have a lot working against us.” 

Field to Family celebrated its official launch on Thursday afternoon at an event attended by Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton, Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and other community leaders. 

In June, Field to Family received a $45,000 commitment from the Iowa City City Council to support its efforts in distributing local foods. Kenyon said the grant helped to pay for a new walk-in cooler and a refrigerated delivery fleet. 

In his remarks at the opening, Throgmorton said funding organizations such as Field to Family is an important part of Iowa City’s climate initiatives. 

“Our Climate Action Plan encourages the community to adopt a local food and plant-based diet,” he said. “We’ve done quite a few things that are consistent with that, but helping to fund food health is a key part of that.”