Local food providers struggle through drought
Severe drought conditions across Winneshiek County this summer have hurt Luther College Dining Services’ ability to get quality local produce.
General Manager of Dining Services Wayne Tudor explained how the drought has affected the produce supply.
“We’re starting to see a lot better production now than we did earlier in the season, but it’s affected not only [how much of] what we’re able to get, but also the quality,” Tudor said. “Because of the heat and the dryness, we weren’t able to get the usual greens that we get early on. It’s affected the size [and quality] of cucumbers and carrots. It’s been a real struggle.”
Even though the supply of produce may be affected, the prices will be unaltered because they were predetermined.
“Our prices on produce are all worked out between January and February of each year,” Tudor said.
“We work with all of our producers [and] let them know what kind of volumes we’re going to have throughout the year. They come back with what they think they can meet of that, and then we get together on pricing.”
For local farmers who rely on the rain to produce a robust crop, the drought has been a pain to deal with. Mari Holthaus of Kymar Acres in Waukon says all local farmers are feeling the impact of the drought.
“It’s affected every farmer negatively and it’s affected each farmer differently,” Holthaus said. “Most every farmer had problems with germination. Because you put the seeds in the soil and you have to wait three weeks for rain, you don’t get germination for a lot longer than usual. It’s made it stressful for us.”
Holthaus is a member of GROWN Locally, a Northeast Iowa farm cooperative that is the main produce supplier for Dining Services. She provided some insight on the historical aspect of the drought.
“I’ve never experienced a drought like this,” Holthaus said. “I’ve been raising vegetables since 1998 and we’ve never been this dry. I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s similar to ones in the ’80s. This is the worst we’ve ever seen it.”
While produce has been a challenge to obtain, the local meat supply has not been affected as of yet.
“We buy almost all our beef now from Grass Run Farms, and a lot of our pork also,” Tudor said. “And, of course, national projections are that beef and pork [prices] are going to go up tremendously. We’re trying to counter that somewhat by using local people. Supplies are supposed to go down and prices are supposed to skyrocket.”
Despite the difficulties getting consistent produce due to the drought, Tudor remains steadfast in his support of locally grown food.
“We’re not going to abandon the local [farms] no matter what we do. We’ve tried to look ahead and make it more reasonable for everybody,” Tudor said.