Celebrating Local Foods

Liz Kolbe, Wheatsfield Board President

It’s Tomato Season!

And melon season, pepper season… somehow still cucumber season, just leaving sweet corn season and we’re almost to leafy greens again, soon to be apples and winter squash. For those of us who ride the waves of seasonal produce, we’re on an acidic, high heat ride, quelled only by the Wheatsfield bakery baguettes and a generous portion of butter. 

And what a better way to celebrate local foods than with a potluck! On Saturday, Aug. 26th about a hundred co-op members gathered at Brookside Park for Wheatsfield’s Local Foods Potluck. Formerly an annual event, this was the first potluck since 2019! We enjoyed a pleasant evening with comfortable(!) weather, sloppy Joes, and a plethora of homemade dishes featuring local ingredients. 

From a pre-dinner hand raise, we learned about a third of the attendees grew something they brought, about another third (and some of the same), shopped at the farmers market, and the rest bought their local products at Wheatsfield. 

I’m lucky to work with a lot of farmers who direct market fruits and vegetables (meaning they sell directly to the customer). There is incredible value and resilience in this direct transaction, and at the same time, it requires an exceptional array of skills on the part of the farmer to be grower, business owner, marketer, sales and customer relationship manager all in one! 

But to take local foods beyond the garden, and even beyond the farmers markets, stores like Wheatsfield set the pace for all other stores. If you visit other parts of Iowa and other states – you might appreciate that Wheatsfield is a hub for a community around local foods, and an easy (and delightful!) place to shop for local products. What’s more hidden to us shoppers is that stores like Wheatsfield are also excellent purchasers of local foods, they play a large role in circulating food dollars to local growers, and their reliability as a purchaser allows growers to expand their businesses. If we had a Wheatsfield (and Wheatsfield members!) in more Iowa towns, we’d have a lot more money flowing through the local food systems. 

But this isn’t a lament of what we’re missing in the state – it’s a celebration of what we have in Ames! Three cheers for local farmers, local foods and potlucks, and soon… for 50 years of cooperative grocery in Ames!