Our mission at Golden Hills RC&D is to collaboratively develop and lead community, conservation, and cultural initiatives to improve our quality of life in rural western Iowa. Our "official" territory from our original organizational bylaws is an eight-county region in the southwestern portion of Iowa (Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, and Shelby). In 2023, we added four more counties (Audubon, Carroll, Crawford, and Monona). Several projects extend beyond these 12 counties into more than 20 counties (learn more about where we work).
Our goals are to develop industries in local communities that utilize local resources; ensure healthy natural resources that meet the needs of agriculture, industry, private use, and recreational facilities; promote and enhance art, culture and historic resources in rural communities; collaborate with local governments and organizations on projects that benefit the environment; and work on projects that fill gaps in community services to benefit people of southwest Iowa.
We accomplish these goals by focusing our work in five program areas: outdoor recreation and tourism, land stewardship, water resources, local foods, and arts and culture. Today's Mission Monday focus is Local Foods.
Iowans are surrounded by fertile farmland, yet most of the food consumed in the state travels an average of 1,500 miles before landing on a dinner plate. Golden Hills strives to improve the southwest Iowa foodshed by building and maintaining alliances between regional producers and consumers. These alliances are further supported by raising awareness among southwest Iowans about the food that is available in this region.
Golden Hills convenes the Southwest Iowa Food and Farm Initiative (SWIFFI), a multi-county coalition of individuals and organizations within the local food system. Golden Hills provides training, assists in navigating regulations, helps with grant writing, and offers other forms of support. The assistance provided by Golden Hills helps make local food more accessible to those living in southwest Iowa. The benefits of an active and local foodshed are felt by all involved. Revitalization of rural communities by boosting local economic development and improving the health of its citizens are just a few examples of the benefits of an active local foods system.
As part of our work in Local Foods, Golden Hills’ Dream to Farm program began in mid-September and ran weekly, on Thursday evenings, ending December 7th. The program, in partnership with Iowa Western Community College (IWCC), revived the original Dream to Farm series that was offered a decade ago and proved itself beneficial, assisting several past participants in getting their local food and farm businesses off the ground.
Enrollment was through IWCC and open to anyone interested. The class was designed to help those with ideas or aspirations, to start a local food or local food adjacent business, hone their idea and write a business plan. Classes were led by producers and professionals already working in the local food realm, such as Aaron French, Manager of Urban Farm Initiatives at City Sprouts, a multi-location urban farm in Omaha; Heath Hoppes, owner and farmer at Hidden Hollow Farm, a small family-owned operation focused on regenerative agriculture practices in the Loess Hills; and Matt Vermeersch, of Mud Ridge Ranch, first generation farmer, raising Scottish Highland cattle and running a goat grazing operation with his wife, Jocelyn. Topics discussed ranged from basic horticulture, soils and integrated pest management to raising livestock and business development. Business classes were led by Sue Pitts of the Small Business Development Center, an incredible resource located on the IWCC campus. Sue discussed market research and financial planning and led participants through the process of writing a business plan. The 12-week class culminated in a voluntary opportunity for class participants to pitch their business idea to Sue and the class.