Kurt Friese has been advocating for local, sustainable food in Johnson County for more than 20 years.
Kurt led the fight for county funding of the Food Hub being built by Field to Family. He is also Board liaison to the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm, and i instrumental in the progress being made there to restore the buildings, preserve the history and the land, and convert the commodity cropland into local food for local people. The forthcoming farm incubator will be instrumental in that effort. There are already 2 successful non-profits growing local food on the Historic Poor Farm, plus a pollinator prairie and more activity to come.
The Comprehensive Plan adopted in June of 2018 lays the groundwork for farming (and living!) on smaller plots of land, creating farm tourism opportunities, and setting aside more land for agriculture and conservation.
Friese's former restaurant, Devotay, was and is a community leader in promoting local, sustainable food since it opened on Linn Street in Iowa City in 1996. Back then it was the only area restaurant buying from local farmers. Today there are dozens. In 2012, Devotay won the Iowa Restaurant Association's "Good Neighbor" Award for community service.
His magazine, Edible Iowa, shared the stories of local farmers and food artisans, bakers and brewers for 10 years. Edible Iowa was a 2-time winner of the Langeland Award for Community Service.
NewBo City Market, just north of Johnson County in Cedar Rapids, is Iowa's only year-round public market. Kurt Friese was instrumental in its design and launch, first as a member of the board of directors, then later as the market's "Director of Healthy Food and Advocacy." He recruited the anchor merchants that opened the 60,000 square foot facility in 2012.
The Poor Farm
The Johnson County "Poor Farm" presents a wonderful opportunity for promoting and supporting local food and farming. It has the potential to become a farm and small food business incubator, similar to The Intervale in Burlington Vermont, or Will Allen's "Growing Power" project in Milwaukee.
A NewBo for JoCo
The public market model, developed with great success in a public/private partnership in Cedar Rapids, is a model that could be recreated here, offering more and better local food while providing excellent start-up opportunities for small, locally-owned food businesses.
Tax breaks for small farms growing organic food
Johnson County should explore offering property tax forgiveness on each acre of land that is converted from commodity agriculture to growing local food for local families. It should also alter the legal definition of "Farm," so that people farming food on under 40 acres can afford to do so in Johnson County. As wonderful as the Iowa City Farmers Market is, it's a shame that a majority of its farmers operate outside Johnson County for this very reason.