Looking back on my years in college, I realize it was the first time I was exposed to the consumer side of the farm to table discussion, at least to this extent. Like many Midwest towns, Iowa City was once a farming community, although it may not seem like it today. Just take a look at Plum Grove, the home of Iowa's first (territorial) governor, Robert Lucas. Built in 1844, the farmstead is now surrounded by a residential area not far from Highway 6.
Today, Iowa City could be called a hotspot for organic, locally produced food – particularly with its ties to New Pioneer Co-Op and the Amish and Mennonite communities near Kalona, just south of Iowa City. However, there is plenty of room for conventional agricultural practices – the highlands and river bottoms near Riverside and Washington come to mind, along with the crowd Kalona Sales Barn draws, and Amana Farms northwest of Iowa City.
One of the things that interested me most about Iowa City was the diversity of consumer choice in the area. Being a college town, the area has a great market for value-added agriculture. Students, professors and local residents all buy these products from New Pioneer, the local farmers' market, or straight from the farm – even the local food movement has a connection to a larger, urban scale.
However, I noticed a bigger scale when I moved to Kansas City. One of the first things I noticed was Kalona Supernatural label in the nearby Hy-Vee's organic dairy section and Amana Beef in the meat section – both over five hours away. It's pretty cool when you think about it, how small Iowa towns of less than 5,000 can have their name in a Kansas City grocery store, not to mention a chain of stores which also got their start in small-town Iowa.