The Ottumwa Courier

January 9, 2013

The scoop on downtown

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Whether they were there for the soup, or there to get the scoop, visitors to a Main Street Ottumwa function Tuesday should have been satisfied.

The event, said board member Brenda Case, is called “Soup and the Scoop” because in addition to something to eat, participants would learn something new about the progress of downtown projects. In fact, more than 50 attendees had gathered at one recent renovation — the KMGO studios on Main Street hosted the event.

The biggest project being discussed is across the street from the radio station: Market on Main, which Main Street Ottumwa director Dianne Haas described as taking a vacant building downtown and turning it into a year-round facility “where ideas grow.”

The building will house a year-round farmers’ market, local small business entrepreneurs and an education component, including a teaching kitchen.

Chef Gordon Rader said such a facility could draw people to Ottumwa. And though the project has been under discussion for years, it’s actually taking shape, he said.

Haas confirmed that not only have organizers developed partnerships and raised nearly a million dollars for the project, they’ve already hired an architect and worked through some initial floor plan ideas.

The goal, she told the crowd, is to have the place running by April 2014. The other goal is to focus on local products.

When the food is shipped in from some unknown location, “there is no connection to the food,” said Marsha Laux, an Iowa State University Extension value-added ag specialist.

Buying from neighbors year-round makes sense on a number of levels, Laux added.

It hasn’t spent days traveling by truck. Shoppers are more likely to have confidence in the safety of the food. And residents will be spending money in their own community.

“Why are you buying [fruits and vegetables] from another country? Why are you supporting their economy?” she asked.

Besides, said Rader, chair of the culinary arts department at Indian Hills Community College, buying fresh from local producers is becoming a trend around the country.

“We have forgotten where our food comes from,” he said. “We need to stimulate the local economy with what we do best, which is agriculture.”

Haas said one important aspect of bringing in shoppers will be to educate consumers. It’s not outrageously expensive to buy fresh, she said, and it’s not so time consuming to prepare fresh food that home cooks won’t be able to do it. Market on Main can help them learn that.

Rader agreed and added he doesn’t believe that no one has time to cook anymore. People are happier when they use some of their time making really good food, starting with fresh, local products that aren’t processed at a factory.

When he goes to Chicago, chefs talk about the great produce from Iowa. Iowans may not even be aware of some of the great products produced in the southeast corner of the state.

Eating fresh food produced locally could lead to residents being healthier, too, said Rader. Real food that hasn’t been processed to a state of blandness is actually becoming hard to find in our busy society, he said.

“Part of this [effort] is about ... re-establishing a culture of cooking in this country,” he said.