Face of a Food Champion: Paul Rasch
Paul Rasch has been orcharding his whole life, but is relatively new to Iowa, having moved about seven years ago. Originally from Michigan, he is the fourth generation of his family to be in the fruit business, and owns and operates Wilson’s Orchard near Iowa City. Despite being relatively new to the area, Rasch quickly has become involved with others working to promote local food.
|Paul Rasch’s picturesque Wilson’s Orchard, seen here in fall of 2009. He grows over a hundred different varieties of apples, and sells many products made from the harvest. Photo contributed by Paul Rasch.|
He has good reason to do so. He explains, “It’s really the resurgence of interest in local foods that keeps this place going. Without that you have nothing. If everyone thought a Washington apple and a local apple were the same we wouldn’t have a business.”
Wilson’s Orchard is located in a scenic area by Rapid Creek that includes old oak forest. Here, Rasch cultivates 130 unique varieties of apples. He has an on-site retail store for visitors to buy harvested apples and a U-Pick operation so people can pick their own. He also grows pumpkins, and the store has a bakery offering pies and turnovers, as well as applesauce, cider and cider vinegar.
The orchard offers events throughout the fall, including an applesauce weekend, back-to-school weekend and a blueberry bonanza. Wilson’s Orchard cider and apples are sold at local Hy-Vee stores, and the cider may also be found at the New Pioneer Food Co-op in Iowa City.
Rasch is involved in the Field to Family Community Food Coalition and the Johnson County Food Policy Council. Both organizations are relatively new, and run by local foods coordinator Jason Grimm. Rasch says he benefits from participating in the Field to Family Community Food Coalition because it expands his customer network. Through Field to Family he has connected with schools to sell his apples. New customers also have found Wilson’s Farm because it is featured in Field to Family’s Buy Fresh, Buy Local directory.
Meanwhile, as a member of the Johnson County Food Policy Council, Rasch and other members are entrusted to develop a set of policy recommendations meant to increase local food supply, production and consumption in Johnson County. Rasch explains that most of the recommendations relate to planning and zoning, “to reduce barriers to small, local production and value-added products [that] address both growing and processing [issues].”
The members submitted their recommendations to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in April 2013. Rasch says the supervisors are supportive, and look favorably upon the members’ ideas.
When asked what the council’s greatest achievement has been so far, Rasch says it was simply to get a dozen of them together, on the same page. “We have different philosophies, goals and passionately-held convictions. It takes some time just to organize… and form committees.”
After forming in 2012 and spending half a year getting organized, Rasch now says the organization has more steam. “Once we got on to [creating the policy recommendations], people got more interested and plugged in.”
About this story
This story was produced to accompany a report documenting the impact of the local food industry on Iowa’s economy associated with the efforts of the Regional Food Systems Working Group. Consult the statewide report: 2012 Economic Impacts of Iowa’s Regional Food Systems Working Group.
For more information on the local foods work occurring in the east-central region, visit the website: fieldtofamily.org.