Kurt Friese has been advocating for local, sustainable food in Johnson County for more than 20 years.
Friese's restaurant, Devotay, has been 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, has been sharing the stories of local farmers and food artisans, bakers and brewers for almost 10 years. Edible Iowa is 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.