The Future of Food in Iowa: Mike Carberry, Candidate for Johnson County Supervisor

In response to our voter guide questions, Mike Carberry, candidate for Johnson County Supervisor, provided these answers.

Early voting has already opened.  Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 4th.


10600537_10152252579253053_1489287432186264170_n1.     Many neighborhoods in our community suffer from lack of food outlets that offer healthy food options and as a consequence, poor health outcomes related to food and nutrition. These factors contribute to a lack of community food and nutrition security. What would you do to ensure community food and nutrition security and strengthen our local food system?

MC.    Food deserts are created in areas where there is poverty. As a Supervisor, I would look to reduce poverty by bringing in more and better jobs to Johnson County. Raising the minimum wage in Johnson County could also be looked at as an option. We also need more affordable housing in Johnson County that is not concentrated in these areas of poverty where food deserts arise. Inclusionary Zoning is an option that can spread affordable and workforce housing throughout the community. Increased funding to social service agencies that provide the community food is also important.

2.     What would you do to increase the amount of local, healthy food made available to schools, childcare centers, after-school programs, summer programs, senior meal programs, food banks, and food pantries?

MC.    I have advocated turning the County Poor Farm into a Local Food Center. The biggest obstacle for a beginning farmer is access to land. Almost the entire Poor Farm could be turned into a local foods incubator. Farmers who grow local and healthy food would then have the option of paying part of their land rent or lease by donating a portion of their crop to schools, childcare centers, after-school programs, summer programs, senior meal programs, food banks, and food pantries.

3.     With fatty, salty, sugary foods causing heart disease, obesity, and other chronic diseases, which impose huge expenses on governments at every level, what should the mayor, health department, and city council do to improve diets?

MC.    Education is the key to improving diets. Every school in the county should have a school garden where the students and their parents learn with a hands on approach where are food comes from and the differences between good and bad diets. The County should work with the school districts to facilitate these gardens. There should also be more community gardens and adult education about nutrition available to the community. The counties involvement in the Blue Zones project is a good first step.

4.     Many cities are adopting policies and passing laws to ensure that the food available on city property—cafeterias and vending machines in government office buildings, day-care centers, schools, parks, and other venues—are healthful. Some cities are providing land for community gardens or even farms. What would you do to foster that trend in our city?

MC.    I would support healthy foods and snacks in cafeterias and vending machines ordinance that would require at least 50% of all options in those cafes and machines are a healthy option. Not sure I would support a ban on unhealthy snacks. I fully support more community gardens in cities and the county. I would start by carving out an area at the County Poor Farm for community gardens. I would also look for other areas in the county for more community gardens as I believe that most folks would want to use a community garden that is close to their home.

5.     Many supermarkets and restaurants are beginning to do more to promote healthier diets. What would you do to encourage them to do more to put health into the sales equation?

MC.    I would encourage supermarkets and restaurants to buy from local producers by promoting a “Grown in Johnson County” campaign. Many folks would like to know that their food is grown locally and might buy more or be willing to pay more for a product if they knew it was local. This campaign could be modeled after the state’s Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign.

6.     Doctors have identified soda and other sugar sweetened beverages as a major cause of the obesity epidemic. What are the pros and cons of an excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages with the revenues used to support public health measures that promote healthy diets and physical activity? Would you support an excise tax on those drinks, with the revenues used to support measures to promote healthy diets and physical activity?

MC.    I’m not sure I would support such an excise tax. I don’t want to turn into a nanny state or county. The answer is education and choice. Educate the public on the dangers of sugary or sweet beverages and then always offer them a healthy alternative.

7.     Studies have shown that proximity to fast-food restaurants increases one’s weight as compared to proximity of a grocery store reduces weight (American Journal of Public Health, 2009). What should the city do to encourage healthy choices and/or provide incentives within restaurants and grocery stores?

MC.    Proper zoning laws regulate the placement of grocery stores and restaurants. Fighting poverty and providing affordable housing throughout the county is probably the best way for the county to address this issue which is mostly an issue that cities deal with and not the county.

8.     Farmers’ markets are a great vehicle for putting more locally grown food on the plates of local community members.  What would you do to help establish or expand farmers’ markets in our community?

MC.    The county should task the Local Foods Policy Council to evaluate the farmers’ markets in Johnson County. They should look for areas of the county that are not being adequately served, Are there days of the week that we could use a farmers’ market like Friday and Sunday. The county could then work with the cities to encourage gaps in the market to be filled in. A centralized year-round market similar to New Bo City Market in Cedar Rapids might also be an option and should be looked at as well.

9.     Supporting local food businesses and food entrepreneurs is a critical component of strengthening our local food system. What strategies will you use for increasing local food production, processing, and retailing to address the growing consumer demand for local food?

MC.    Johnson County has a large appetite for local and fresh food (pun intended). However, most of the local food for sale at our farmer’s markets and grocery stores comes from outside the county due to the restrictions on farms under 40 acres in Johnson County. In Johnson County the Planning and Zoning Department does not consider your operation to be a “farm” unless your operation is over 40 acres. Your operation is taxed at residential rates which are almost double that of agricultural property tax rates. There is also a lot of red tape that needs to be cut in the County to make it easier for a small producer to build greenhouses, hoop houses, packing sheds and other facilities that are needed for farming operations. Farms over 40 acres are not required to jump through all of these hoops so why should the small farmer? The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a farm as any place from which at least $1,000 of agricultural products are produced and sold. Why should Johnson County be different? We need to find ways to encourage local farmers so that they stay in the county where their market it and not grow their produce in neighboring counties and truck their produce into Johnson County.

10.  What would you do to encourage more urban agriculture in the city? What actions would you take to create more community/school gardens and urban farms?

MC.    Community gardens and school gardens are vital if we are to make local and fresh food a bigger part of the diet of the average citizen in Johnson County. We need to all work together to make this happen, the school districts, the cities, the county and along with the help of groups like Iowa State Extension and local food related non-profits all need to be on board with growing food where we live. This type of project might require a task force with all stake holders at the table.

11.  What would you do to reduce food-related waste in our community?

MC.    I would provide as much funding as possible to Table to Table, a local non-profit that reduces food waste from grocery stores and restaurants. I also would do everything possible to compost all the food waste remaining to keep it out of the land fill where it would just decompose to produce methane gas. Compost bin programs and curb side composting should be encouraged throughout the county.  Large commercial kitchens should also be required to have composting programs.

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