Jason Grimm has about a thousand titles, but first and foremost, he is a third generation farmer in Iowa, where he raises corn, alfalfa, small grains, black beans, beef, poultry and a variety of produce.
Since 2009, however, Jason has also served as the Food Systems Planner for Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development in Cedar Rapids, where he connects farmers with schools looking to source local food for their students throughout a nine-county region. Jason works with local governments, health authorities, schools, farmers, non-profit organizations, food processors and others working to build a sustainable food system – so its no surprise that people say he knows everyone in the region!
“My experience as a farmer helped me bridge the gap between school food directors and farmers”
Wearing so many hats means Jason can fill a unique role in advancing farm to school programs in Iowa. Schools can be an unfamiliar market for many farmers, and understanding how they differ from their other customers is important. “My experience as a farmer helped me bridge the gap between school food directors and farmers,” he shares. For example, “[Farmers] weren’t familiar with how to respond back to the bids from schools. They ask me, ‘Can I just call and tell them that stuff?’ Not understanding the proper channels to navigate school contracts.”
Jason was inspired, watching so many challenging interactions between farms and schools that he felt could be avoided. To help others navigate common roadblocks, Jason created the Iowa Farm to School Toolkit, complete with purchasing templates, sample checklists and other guides he hopes are useful for farmers and schools alike.
In fact, Jason seems to find practical solutions for all the curveballs that come with the development of new market structures. In rural areas like where Jason lives, schools often need a small amount of produce, which can be worth less to the farmer than the cost of transporting the food. Jason’s solution: working together. He manages the Iowa Valley Food Co-op , an online hub where farmers can pool their resources and defray costs associated with tapping into wholesale markets, in addition to reaching individual customers. The growing cooperative currently has 5 farms and serves as a food hub for a school district in the state. Jason views working collectively with other farmers as a strong strategy that benefits everyone.
A true renaissance man, Jason also leads beginning farmer and rancher trainings, facilitates food policy councils in Johnson and Linn counties, and helps develop regional farm to school chapters in Iowa.
But more than anything, Jason hopes that his work in Iowa will inspire others to get involved across the country.