What does a food hub who specializes in Farm to School do in the summer?

June 2022

By Teresa Wiemerslage, food system specialist, ISU Extension and Outreach

Just like farming has seasons – planting season, haying season, harvest season – food hubs have seasons as well.

And like the farms they serve, every food hub is unique and adapts to the communities they serve. Iowa Food Hub (IFH) in Decorah was created to aggregate and distribute larger orders of local foods for institutional demand. The flaw in that business model comes in the summer when the schools and colleges are closed. So how does the food hub adapt?

From Day One, the Iowa Food Hub has carried the value that the hub does not compete with local farms, rather, it promotes them. So the annual decrease in sales during the summer was not challenged, but accepted and planned.

In previous years, food hub staff would slow down in the summer months and appreciate the slower pace before the craziness of peak farm-to-school sales in the fall. But this year is a little different. A mixture pandemic recovery, supply chain disruption and increased food costs has re-focused energy on the local food system, resulting in new opportunities.

For the Iowa Food Hub, their summer customers are seasonal in their own way, but those customers are the perfect way to fill the sales gap left by the institutional markets. Here are some of the ways that the food hub is doing their “summer shift.”

Farmstands and small grocers. As the produce season ramps up, the food hub helps small businesses like Unionland Market and Frickson Family Farms keep their store shelves stocked with fresh items.

Summer camps. The Driftless Region is home to several weekly and daily summer camps and feeding programs. Places like Camp EWALU and Decorah Kids Lunch Club are sourcing local produce, dairy and eggs to keep campers fed and active.

Special events. Summertime means cookouts and get-togethers. One large event to clean-up the river is feeding local chicken and pork to the volunteers. Other agritourism destinations like Luna Valley Farm source local food and drinks to serve their customers.

Pantry donations. The food hub is in the unique position to deliver local foods to area food pantries. In some cases, the food is donated, like the spinach from Luther College Gardens, or the leftover meals from the Cafeteria to Community program. In other cases, the food pantries pay for the local products at a discounted price. The food hub facilitates the delivery of extra farm supply to those community members who need it.

Distribution services. In addition to meeting the needs of their own customers, Iowa Food Hub partners with other farms and food producers to move product more efficiently throughout the region. IFH makes deliveries for Country View Dairy, Rolling Hills Greenhouse, WW Homestead Dairy, River Root Farm and others to save time, labor and fuel. The food hub and Oneota Community Food Co-op have launched a new shared distribution model where the food hub picks up co-op orders from the same farms. Companies like SnoPac Foods and Driftless Provisions recognize the food hub as their distribution partner and will refer customers.

Berry Season. From June through October there is a rapid succession of seasonal fruits and berries coming in and out of season, many being extremely perishable and susceptible to pests, weather events, and the farmer’s ability to harvest and market. The Iowa Food Hub is connecting institutions and individuals alike able to quickly preserve the harvest, into pies, jams, beer, cider, etc. and provide a new avenue for producers to sell larger volumes of a crop that might not sell in a timely manner whether it’s due to a bumper crop or bad weather. Last year Pulpit Rock Brewery made a special batch of beer made with Hoch Orchard plums and raspberries.

There are a variety of food hubs serving households and institutions across the state. ISU Extension and Outreach maintains a directory of them. Find a food hub near you.

Cross-Age Teaching Continues with Adjustments

May 18, 2021

For several years now, Turkey Valley schools have participated in Farm to School Cross Age Teaching program. Teams of high school students lead lessons for elementary students featuring foods from local farms and businesses. Because of considerate donations from the Turkey Valley Education Foundation (TVEF), Cross Age has continued to be a classroom favorite from both the big and littles!

School nurse Natalie Schneiter leads the group, and was concerned when COVID hit that the program may not be offered due to the segregation of student age groups. To her luck, the program was approved, and with some work, Nurse Natalie and the Cross Age student teachers found a way to make the monthly lessons happen.

The biggest challenge was that the high school students were not able to go into the lower elementary classrooms to deliver the lesson and help serve the taste-test. The students made a video of their lessons instead. Each month, Nurse Natalie would print their entire script in large writing on colored paper. Then she would set-up her cell phone to record the students teaching the monthly lesson.

Nurse Natalie made sure each of the 1st - 3rd grade classrooms watched the lesson and received their monthly taste test. With some luck, the leftovers were shared with the cross age teachers. Just this year, Turkey Valley lower elementary students were able to taste test an awesome variety of local foods that included apples, cauliflower, carrots and hummus, beef sticks, yogurt with granola and honey, pumpkin muffins, microgreens, spinach, and radishes!

The lessons were provided by Teresa Wiemerslage, farm to school field specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. Wiemerslage worked with the Iowa Food Hub in Decorah to source and deliver foods from 12 area farms and businesses.

Allamakee County Community Foundation supports Iowa Food Hub

October 13, 2020

It takes a village to feed a community, and that’s been especially true in 2020. As schools, daycares, and Allamakee County communities continue to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Iowa Food Hub keeps working to connect schoolchildren with fresh food from local farmers.

The Allamakee County Community Foundation helped further that mission with a $10,000 grant toward the purchase of a refrigerated delivery truck for the Food Hub. During the 2019-20 school year, the Food Hub rented refrigerated trucks to make its weekly deliveries. That arrangement meant limited and inconsistent availability to make additional deliveries and provide on-farm pickups for farmers. The new truck, purchased in August, will allow the Food Hub to add more routes and serve more customers in northeast Iowa.

“Our truck has already helped with farm-to-school logistics this fall,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, Food Hub advisor. “Because of the new CARES Act funding, we are seeing increased interest from schools outside our regular service area for deliveries during October Farm to School month, including Dubuque and Western Dubuque schools. Having our own truck will help us deliver products from northeast Iowa farms to those schools.”

October is National Farm to School month. The Food Hub is celebrating by promoting Iowa Local Food Day and asking schools to sign up to participate in serving local foods. During October, students and families should check school menus to see what local foods are being served.

“Some schools will serve products from local farms; others will serve from their school gardens,” said Wiemerslage. “Farm to School month is about connecting kids to the farms and farmers in their community.” Learn more at

In spite of school closures this spring, the Food Hub continued to operate according to the school’s emergency feeding protocols using grab-and-go meals. When the pandemic forced the Decorah Farmer’s Market to shut down for the first part of the summer, the Food Hub launched an innovative online marketplace to facilitate purchasing, delivery and curbside pick-up.

Sponsored by Allamakee New Beginning, the Food Hub has delivered $300,000 worth of food to local schools and facilitated $2.37 million in income to over 100 regional farmers and small businesses since launching in 2012.

“Schools are an extremely hard market for individual farmers to service,” said Wiemerslage. “Research and experience have shown that food hubs are the critical partner to get local foods into schools. In many cases, the food hub is the only source of local foods for schools.” Farmers interested in selling products to schools should contact the school, get listed in the Iowa Farm to School directory, or contact a food hub.

“We prioritize capacity-building for nonprofits like the Food Hub, and their mission touches so many families — from supporting our local farmers to feeding our local youth,” said Erin Iverson, board chair. “The Foundation is proud to support the Iowa Food Hub.”