Woodbury County, Iowa is best known for its conventional agriculture--acres upon acres of corn and wheat crops and huge livestock raising operations--all grown using modern mass agricultural methods which include liberal use of pesticides, herbicides and genetically-altered seeds and plants. This Midwestern farm-belt county, with Sioux City as its county seat, has made its mark on agriculture and food processing by producing large quantities of commodity products which are processed into many foods designed to feed the masses globally. It's been as conventional as conventional agriculture gets. Until now that is.
Just as conventional agriculture is changing to more of a mixed methodology--with sustainable and organic growing methods becoming increasingly popular--Woodbury County, Iowa is changing as well---and big time.
A partnership between the city of Sioux City, the county of Woodbury and a group called the Siouxland Initiative has just launched a marketing initiative with the aim to promote the region as the U.S. leader in organic food production and processing. The government agencies and the Siouxland Initiative group have created a series of organic foods policies which they say makes them a perfect place for organic foods companies to locate. They call the marketing plan the Organic Market Project. In addition to the organic policies the project includes numerous economic and other incentives all designed to lure organic food processing companies to America's heartland--Woodbury County, Iowa.
Some of the marketing incentives for existing and potential organic farmers and food companies include:
>A county policy that gives tax rebates to farmers who convert their land from conventional to organic production.
>The creation of a local organic foods brand called "Sioux City Sue," which these farmers and processors can use for marketing locally-produced foods. The brand's marketing program will be based on a combination of organic and locally-produced to be marketed throughout the Midwest and eventaully nationally.
>The creation of an organic foods business park with large tracts of land ready for organic food processing companies to use.
>The creation of economic development packages for prospective organic food companies via the Siouxland Initiative, which is an arm of the Sioux City Chamber of Commerce's economic development department.
"Recruiting organic food businesses capitalizes on the area's history in the food production industry," said Marty Dougherty, Sioux City's economic development director. Dougherty was joined last week by Sioux City, Woodbury County and other coalition leaders in together announcing the Organic Market Project marketing initiative. "We didn't invent local food, didn't invent the organic food movement, but we used local government to get control of what happens," says Rob Marqusee, the Woodbury County rural economic development director who is coordinating the initiative, explaining why the coalition is launching the marketing program to become "Organic County USA."
Woodburry County is the first--and perhaps the only--U.S. county which has to date created economic incentives specifically designed to lure organic farmers and organic food companies according to Debi Durham, president of the Sioux City Chamber of Commerce's Siouxland Initiative. And it's currently the only county in the U.S. to specifically offer tax breaks to organic growers and producers. Durham studied economic development all over the U.S. prior to the launch of the initiative and says she couldn't find any other county that has created such economic incentives along with a comprehensive organic foods economic and marketing development program. "There's a culture here (organic farming and foods) that's emerging," Durham says. "It's important to these (organic foods) companies. they want to come where they are embraced."
Indeed Woodburry County and the public/private coalition is embracing existing farmers with their tax incentives to convert to organic farming and to organic food companies with the basket of tax breaks and other economic incentives available to them if they relocate to the region. and the coalition already is reaching out. Last week they mailed colorful postcards to over 1,500 organic foods companies in the U.S. telling them about the initiative and asking them to read more about it at their new website here. This is just the first of many marketing outreach efforts the coalition is planning.
Natural~Specialty Foods Memo (NSFM) believes the Organic Market Project group is on to something key here. First, the group is a "first mover" in creating a program to encourage existing local farmers to convert to organic by using tax and other economic incentives. This has yet to be tried elsewhere in the U.S. and provides an added incentive--along with the more important market-based reasons--for the region's farmers to go organic.
Second, by creating the marketing program to lure organic foods processing companies to the region with economic and other incentives the group is creating synergies between organic farming and food production. This ultimately will benefit farmers and processors as over time the region can become an incubator for the organic industry in the Midwest.
Lastly, by creating a public/private coalition the group also is creating an "organic foods culture" in the region. The initiative will energize consumers as well as business people which will be key in the development of the "Sioux City Sue" organic brand both locally and nationwide. Even more importantly a partnership such as this creates numerous stakeholders which tend to ensure greater success for such marketing initiatives.
Those folks who still think the organic foods movement isn't becoming mainstream, despite all the evidence showing it is, can ask themselves then why a county in the U.S. heartland--the center of conventional U.S. agriculture--is putting so much effort and money into a long-term marketing program to create an organic foods culture and industry smack in the center of commodity corn and wheat country. The answer we believe is the Iowa folks see the future of agriculture, which will be a mix of conventional, sustainable and organic farming and food marketing, with organic and sustainable being where the growth is. That future is hear today in part and will only accelerate. The Iowa initiative is an interesting testament to organic food production and marketing and should be watched closely as a leader in public and private farm/food policy and marketing.
NOTE: You can view a video featuring organic farmers, initiative organizers, food manufacturers, retailers and others here. The video describes the marketing initiative as well as what's currently going on in Woodbury County and Sioux City, Iowa in the organic foods industry.