Northeast Iowa Food & Farm Coalition - Nick McCann

Face of a Food Champion: Nick McCann

We caught up with Nick McCann one day as he navigated the streets of Decorah assembling bags of food for a workplace food box program, a new type of community-supported agriculture (CSA) enterprise. It is organized through a northeast Iowa regional food hub.

man in warehouse
Nick McCann builds a food system, one box at a time. Here he examines produce before packaging and delivery. Photo contributed by Teresa Wiemerslage.

“What this is designed to do is to create a win-win,” says McCann, business specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “The customers end up with a weekly delivery [at their workplace] of local food at a reasonable price. The farmers have an additional market for their product at a fair price and don’t have to deal with the demands of marketing and logistics.”

McCann is researching the viability of a weekly food delivery program as the primary revenue source for a broader food aggregation service in northeast Iowa. Worksites are targeted because of the volume of business they provide per stop. He works with a team to locate and collect local produce and products, then package and deliver these to employees of businesses like Rockwell Collins and Upper Iowa University. Food box contents vary weekly and seasonally, but typically include local produce, meat, bread, eggs and milk. There are no limits on what items the boxes may contain. In winter, organic produce from a food cooperative may be substituted for local produce.

As a food system value chain coordinator, McCann helps farmers develop new products, leads discussions and research on product collection and distribution, and identifies new partners and urban markets for these products in the Driftless Region. USDA Rural Development funds some of his technical assistance. He learned about similar programs in other parts of the country by taking part in a study hub facilitated by the Wallace Center at Winrock International and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Study hub members take part in bi-monthly teleconferences and have the opportunity to tour different types of food hubs across the country. After observing these models, McCann decided to test if such a program would work in Iowa.

While the food box program essentially covers all the delivery costs for a truckload of food, it offers several other advantages. For example, it allows McCann to easily find markets for surplus food. “Farmers typically overplant for their growing season,” explains McCann, “allocating extra land and labor to insure they have adequate produce no matter the growing and weather conditions.”

McCann also notes that it can be difficult for local farmers to manage packaging, transport and marketing on top of production. “It’s not just the amount of work,” he says, “It’s the amount of focus that it requires to get everything done.”

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 northeast region, visit the Iowa Food Hub website, 

Video by Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque: Nick McCann introduces a Workplace CSA.