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Allamakee County repeats as Live Healthy Iowa Community Champion

Posted: May 2, 2013
Allamakee County was crowned as the repeat champion in this year's Live Healthy Iowa 10-Week Community Cup Challenge, marking the second consecutive year that the residents of Allamakee teamed up to not only boast the highest percentage of total population participating in the competition (20.74% of the 13,384 eligible participants in the county), but also one of the highest percentages (69.46%) of those 2,776 total participants actually completing the entire 10-Week-Challenge.

Live Healthy Iowa announced its 2013 Cup Challenge winners at a press conference held Wednesday, April 24 in the State Capitol Rotunda in Des Moines, and for the second consecutive year, Allamakee County was crowned the winner of the Community Cup Challenge.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Cup Challenge co-chairs Steve Lacy and Bill Leaver presented Cup Challenge traveling trophies to representatives from this year's winners. Ann Hart, Principal at East and West Elementary Schools in Waukon, represented the Get Active Allamakee Wellness Coalition in accepting the Community Cup Challenge trophy at Wednesday's presentation in Des Moines.

With 38 communities competing in this year's Community Cup Challenge, a point system based on participation percentage of eligible population and percentage of completion for the entire 10-Week Challenge racked up a championship total of 75 points for Allamakee County, leaving second-place Grundy County behind by seven points and pushing Allamakee County to the top of the competition for the second consecutive year.

Considering a total population of eligible participants five years of age or older, Allamakee County ranked first in percentage of population participating this year with 20.74% of its eligible population total of 13,384 people. Next closest in that statistical category was Washington County with 18.25% of its eligible population taking part in the Challenge.
Allamakee County dipped to a second-place ranking in percentage of participants completing the entire 10-Week Challenge, as 69.46% of this year's 2,776 participants reported activity minutes and/or weight loss results for the entire 10 weeks of the Challenge. Only the City of Hiawatha ranked higher in that completion percentage, with 86.95% of its just 28 participants completing the entire 10-Week Challenge.

"We're so happy to see widespread participation in our county, it's outstanding!" commented Dani Bucknell, Director of the Waukon Wellness Center who co-leads the Get Active Allamakee Wellness Coalition with Stefanie Perkins of Waukon. "Many thanks to those who participated. Stay active and get ready for 2014!"

Within the overall Allamakee County effort, there were three local organizations that were also competing within Live Healthy Iowa's Corporate Cup Challenge of the 10-week competition. Within the Corporate Cup division of companies with 50-250 employees, Veterans Memorial Hospital of Waukon ranked eighth out of 129 participating businesses, with the Allamakee Community School District finishing 34th in that division and Good Samaritan Society-Waukon placing 86th.

After Live Healthy Iowa added the Corporate and Community Cup Challenges last year in an effort to broaden exposure to wellness, this year the Challenge was expanded to include Iowa's schools, encouraging students and staff to take steps to better health. Within this year's newly-formed K-12 School Cup Challenge, the Allamakee Community School District ranked fifth out of 21 participating schools, finishing just two points behind the School Cup Challenge winner, Mid-Prairie Community School District.

The full list of results for the 2013 Cup Challenges and more information about Live Healthy Iowa can be found at

Live Healthy Iowa, formerly Lighten Up Iowa, was created in 2001 by the Iowa Sports Foundation as a strategic health initiative to address the state's growing obesity problem. The Challenge competitions were begun as a means to help reach Iowa Governor Terry Branstad's goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation within the next five years.
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WANTED: Gardeners to Help Reduce Food Insecurity Across Iowa

Posted: April 20, 2013
New program promotes healthier communities through food gardening, produce donation

The Iowa Food Systems Council announced the launch of Cultivate Iowa, an initiative promoting the benefits of food gardening and produce donation to create a sustainable future and healthier communities in Iowa.
"This project aims to promote food security and improve the health of Iowans by increasing access to garden produce through integrated coordination, social marketing and outreach strategies," says Elizabeth Danforth Richey, one of the project coordinators.
Through extensive research, Cultivate Iowa identified how food gardening could positively impact individuals, families, organizations and communities. By talking with food pantry staff and volunteers, low-resource Iowans and current food gardeners, Cultivate Iowa designed a program to help all Iowa communities.
"By increasing the number of food gardeners in our communi ties, we can begin to increase food security throughout our cities and the entire state of Iowa," says project coordinator Angie Tagtow. "Food pantries appreciate having fresh produce in stock. Families love seeing it at pantries and it's usually the first thing off the shelves, so it never goes to waste. The key to remember is that all fresh produce is happily received and every little bit helps." Visit to learn more about food gardening and easy ways to start a garden.
Gardeners may also join the program by pledging to donate fresh produce in their community. Once you have made the promise to donate, you enter your ZIP code to find organizations that accept fresh produce. At the end of the growing season, gardeners can report back how much they donated through a post-harvest survey. Gardeners can promise to donate produce at
"All you really need to get started is a container, some potting soil and either seeds or plants." says Tagtow.
For more information about Cultivate Iowa, please visit
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April 30 Lecture: "Rebuilding the Foodshed"

Posted: April 20, 2013

Lecture: "Rebuildingthe Foodshed: Remapping Expectations for the Food We Share"

Location: Luther College, Valders Hall of Science 206

Date/Time: Tuesday, April 30 @ 7pm (book signing tofollow)

It's not enough to say "local food" and declare victory. We need toinvest in thoughtful planning, not just local foods--and we have to beginthinking about local food systems as citizens, not just consumers. We must alsobring more diverse representation to the table and stretch our thinking fromlocal realities to regional possibilities.

Rebuilding the foodshed brings democracy back to the table through a focus oncommunity-based food systems, food systems that are just and resilient. Modelsabound for re-envisioning how local food systems can transform how we eat,shop, grow, connect, and plan for the future. Farmer, professor, and authorPhilip Ackerman-Leist explores local scale from a national perspective andproposes strategies for creating more democratic and secure food systems.

Philip Ackerman-Leist, author of Rebuilding the Foodshed and Up Tunket Road, isa professor at Green Mountain College, where he established the college's farm andsustainable agriculture curriculum and is director of the Green MountainCollege Farm & Food Project. He also founded and directs the college'sMasters in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS), the nation's first online graduateprogram in food systems, featuring applied comparative research of students'home bioregions. He and his wife, Erin, farmed in the South Tirol region of theAlps and North Carolina before beginning their sixteen-year homesteading andfarming venture in Pawlet, Vermont. With more than two decades of "fieldexperience" working on farms, in the classroom, and with regional food systemscollaborators, Philip's work is focused on examining and reshaping local andregional food systems from the ground up.

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Cresco's Fitness Action Plan Approved

Posted: April 15, 2013
The City of Cresco was selected as one of 10 communities from across the state to participate in the Iowan's Fit for Life program sponsored by the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).  Cresco's Fit for Life Steering Committee, with significant input from community members, created an action plan of health-related projects that improve access to, or the use of, recreational assets and more nutritional food for all of its community members. 

The plan has recently been approved by the IDPH as supporting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommended strategies for obesity prevention and the community has been awarded $10,000 to help implement the projects. 

Cresco's plan identified several specific activities designed to help residents get Fit for Life:
    Develop wayfinding signage to direct residents and visitors to the trail, parks and fitness center
    Improve the marking of the trail on a section of city roadway for user safety
    Support the updating and reprinting of the Howard County/Cresco Recreational Brochure
    Obtain and install outdoor fitness machines in a city park and along the Prairie Springs Recreational Trail, creating a Strength and Cardio Circuit for residents
    Upgrade the city's tennis courts
    Relocate and create new signage for the local Farmer's Market
    Offer healthier snack choices at the Fitness Center
    Inform residents about the benefits of active living and healthy eating through a weekly newspaper column in the local newspaper

Cresco will spend its IDPH money to develop wayfinding signage for the community's recreational assets, for demarcation of the trail along a city roadway, to support the creation of a comprehensive recreation brochure, to purchase outdoor fitness machines, to purchase signage for the local Farmer's Market and to integrate more healthy food and beverage options at the Cresco Fitness Center.  The city, its business community and its volunteer network have committed to filling in the gaps, with additional pledges of outdoor fitness equipment machines, labor, materials, services, media coverage and fundraising to ensure that the community's Fit for Life action plan is fully implemented.

Upper Explorerland was happy to facilitate the process of gathering community input and creating the action plan for the City of Cresco.  Please contact Karla Organist in our Planning Department if your community is considering a planning project of any sort and are seeking facilitation services.

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2012 FFI Annual Report Available

Posted: March 29, 2013
The annual report covering their third year of work is now available from the Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI).  This new 27-page publication showcases the wide variety of work done in the Initiative's strategies for policy and system change in schools, early childhood settings, community active living environments and the local food system.  

The report marks the end of three years of work sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  WKKF invests in community-driven projects across the country that work to change policies and systems to make the healthy choice the easy choice.  Kellogg's investment in northeast Iowa started in 2008 when it was selected as one of nine sites selected to be a Food & Fitness community, with a two-year planning grant of $650,000.  A three-year implementation grant of $1.2 million followed.  

WKKF announced earlier this year they are investing four more years in northeast Iowa.  The extended funding phase will focus on long-term sustainability for the citizens in the six rural counties of Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard, and Winneshiek.  

Guided by a Regional Leadership Council of local community members, FFI is grounded and supported by the staff of four core partner organizations: ISU Extension and Outreach, Luther College, Northeast Iowa Community College and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission.

Our work as been grounded in the principle that we can do more by working together.  2012 has been a great year.

    18 school districts are tackling school wellness with assistance from AmeriCorps and FoodCorps service members.
    240 youth leaders are creating change in their schools as part of FFI 4-H youth teams.
    1 in 4 students are walking or biking to school--up 4% from last year.
    Schools purchased over $14,400 of food from local farmers.
    Local food sales increased $1.5 million from the year before to reach $3.6 million.
    46 jobs have been created in the past three years as a result our food systems work.
    29 new local food producers/food enterprises were created in the past three years.

Copies of the FFI's Year 3 annual report are available by calling (563) 794-0599 or you can click on sections of the report here:
2012 Project Narrative report
Evaluation Summary
Active Living Report

The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative has brought people in Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties together to make our region a place where every day, all people have access to healthy, locally grown foods and abundant opportunities for physical activity in the places where we live, learn, work and play.
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Four ag mini-grants awarded in Winneshiek County

Posted: March 23, 2013
Local-food production is getting a boost through four mini-grants awarded by Winneshiek County Development, Inc.

The four businesses--three in rural Decorah and one near Ridgeway--will each receive $375.  The projects are:

Otter Creek Orchard
Owner Chad Elliott, a former chef who now is the assistant to the director of food service for the Decorah Community School District, has grafted 70 apple trees in the last two years and planted more than a half-acre of asparagus that is sold to local consumers and restaurants.  His new project that received funding is to buy fire brick and mortar to build an oven for bread making.  Some of the breads he plans to sell include sourdough battard, Italian ciabatta, rye boule, whole wheat rounds and par-baked wood fired pizza crust.

Sweet Earth Farm
Owner Anne Bohl grows chemical free vegetables for sale at farmers markets and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs.) She also raised 200 pastured heritage chickens last year and received funding this year to double that capacity by building a movable chicken pen. The 20 foot by 12 foot by 7 foot pen will be built on skids so a tractor can pull it a couple times per week.

Patchwork Green Farm
Owner Erik Sessions has been growing vegetables for Winneshiek County customers for the past 15 years. The five-acre farm employs two seasonal workers, utilizes three hoop houses and includes mechanized tillage and mowing. The grant will help fund a mechanical cultivator to improve both the quality and the quantity of produce grown.

Laughing Sol Farm
Owner Trevor Madsen founded the farm in 2012 with the intention of providing Northeast Iowa with a wide range of fresh gourmet and medicinal mushrooms and mushroom spawn for interested cultivators. He will use the grant money to build a sterilization unit with much higher capacity than the current one. The increased capacity means he could produce up to 300 pounds of fresh mushrooms per month for sale in and around Winneshiek County. Ultimately, the capacity could reach 2,400 pounds of fresh gourmet and medicinal mushrooms for sale in and around Winneshiek County.

This is the first year that WCDI has directly funded the Ag Mini Grants, but it has administered the grants for the Northeast Iowa Food & Farm Coalition (NIFF) since 2008. WCDI Director Randy Uhl said the 12 applications received this year is double the number received in any other year.

"The high number of applications is an indication of the strong interest in increasing the production and consumption of local foods," Uhl said. "And the caliber of the projects just keeps rising each year."
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Cresco Bicycles is on the Move

Posted: March 23, 2013
The downtown business is expanding and changing locations, transitioning across the street to the building currently occupied by Movies America.

Cresco Bicycles co-owners Paul Lovell and Keith Wherry are looking forward to the move to a more spacious building.

"I'm looking forward to all the space. We will be able to expand and have more bikes in the showroom, and customers can more easily find accessories. It will make it more efficient for repairs. We're probably tripling our useable space. With the bikes, we can wheel them out for people to look at, and organize by style and category."

Lovell said Cresco Bicycles is a draw along an increasingly wide geographical area.

"We're noticing we've been pulling in a lot of people from places like New Hampton, Fredericksburg, Sumner, Waterloo, and as far north as LeRoy and Spring Valley (Minnesota). We're starting to pull in people from around the area and are hoping to expand the geographic area."

As the spring season approaches, Lovell said that Cresco offers an ideal location for bike enthusiasts.

"Cresco is a great community to get around on your bicycle. You can go to school, to work, and pick up groceries," he said. Noting the health benefits of exercise, Lovell -- who worked as a registered nurse in Waterloo before taking co-ownership of Cresco Bicycles -- said, "In light of the obesity epidemic, bicycling can help with that. Also, with people on computers so much of the time, there is very little interaction in the real world. Bicycling is a very social activity: You can bike by and wave to your neighbors, and a lot can be said about that."

Source:, March 12, 2013.
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What Keeps Community Change Going?

Posted: March 13, 2013
From the W.K.Kellogg Foundation Annual Report
An interview with Ann Mansfield project coordinator, Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative, Decorah, Iowa

The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (NEIFFI) was created to address two ironies. The first: that children in the six Iowa counties comprising part of one of the world's most productive agricultural areas are, in fact, growing up in a food desert. The second: that the rural, relatively healthy physical environment in which these children live does not automatically offer opportunities for healthful living.

Yet having achieved significant success in addressing these issues, NEIFFI has encountered a third irony: even once generated, momentum for change is a challenge to sustain.

NEIFFI is pursuing three strategies to drive change which will increase the communities' and schools' wellness: building a local food system; engaging communities in active transportation to school and work as a way to increase physical activity; and changing local schools' policies and practices regarding wellness. Five years after its successful launch, the initiative has accomplished some notable achievements, including:

  •     A significant increase in the number of children who walk or bike to school in the six counties.
  •     An increase in locally-sourced food, which is now served in 17 of the region's 20 school districts.
  •     Sixteen school districts with school gardens, producing more than 4,000 pounds of produce used in school meal programs.
  •     Annual continuing education classes in wellness training for K-12 teachers.
  •     Creation of active wellness teams in 90 percent of the region's school districts, most of which include school administrators, teachers, nurses and school food service staff, in addition to local youth and parents.

Part of the challenge in sustaining the momentum for such change, according to Project Coordinator Ann Mansfield, is the sheer complexity of the major tasks on which the initiative focuses. That complexity is compounded by the diverse needs of six counties and 20 school districts, making "cookie-cutter" solutions impossible.

Citing one strategy building a local food system for all of the region's school districts Mansfield listed the component tactics required for a single task:

"Say we want schools to serve broccoli three or four times in the month of September. This is a region of small farms. We won't get this done with one producer. So we have to start by aggregating producers. Then we have to work with each of 20 school districts' procurement systems to help them design bid requests that recognize the difference between a local food product and a commodity product; coordinate refrigeration and distribution; and deal with preparation challenges, especially in schools that are all about heat and serve.

"And then we have to get people to taste and try healthier local foods. So that one task comes down to understanding and intervening in five or six key dimensions of the food system. This is a very fundamental shift for us. Yet, it's very exciting long-term."

But while thinking in terms of systems helps dimension the task, the challenges often come down to specific interpersonal interactions.

"We've been challenged to get to a sustainable model, where we're no longer looking for outside investment," Mansfield said. "So for the past five years, we've been building multiple stake-holder groups, everything from producers to schools to health providers, city councils, county supervisors and employers, and having conversations about why wellness is so important. Then facilitating discussions that really develop buy-in and commitment and build capacity to the point where we have people starting to advocate for change.

"The reality is, people don't want to be told what to do without understanding why. And in order to understand the why, it takes slowing people down and having a good conversation."

Singling out parents as one albeit one very important group of stakeholders, she described the process as "more like silver buckshot than a silver bullet. It's parent-teacher conferences and inviting parents into school gardens and setting up experiential meals where we get eight parents around a table with a high fat, high sodium heat-and-serve meal to have a thoughtful discussion about food value and the importance and implications of change.

"It's multiple conversations with one parent at a time, and then trying to understand how to leverage that parent as a messenger and an advocate."

Corry Bregendahl, an evaluator for the initiative, pointed out that the process of education is continual and ongoing for each group of stakeholders, and that it must remain relevant to each, even as contexts change.

"For example, our schools are changing before our eyes. In five years, consolidation could make our schools look very different from the way they look today. We're developing school champions who may not have a job in the fall."

A second challenge is the continual negotiation over boundaries and control. For example, NEIFFI's food systems work requires the involvement of leadership from virtually every stakeholder group, against a constantly shifting political background.

"There's a real issue of who is going to control what processes and systems," Bregendahl said.

Ultimately, both Mansfield and Bregendahl agree that promoting conditions that support healthy lifestyles requires first promoting conditions that support what Bregendahl called "stable domains for change," built on stable partnerships and relationships.

The ingredients?

  •     A common vision that is nurtured over time as new relationships are formed.
  •     Trust between partners that they will act in each other's interests.
  •     An appreciation of diverse perspectives, and an ability to de-personalize judgments and decisions.
  •     And a commitment to process, with faith that desired outcomes will follow.

"This isn't about changing an individual's behavior," said Mansfield. "(What) we hope to achieve is for people to embrace this idea of why our environments need to be healthier and why it's so important that the healthy choice is the easy choice."

Bregendahl characterized the work of creating that change as twofold. Building "muscle" is the process of actually changing community behavior. The relationships that drive and sustain that effort is what she called "building the connective tissue."

"It's messy work," she said.
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Seeking Nominations for Community Leadership Seminar

Posted: March 13, 2013
The Luther College Center for Sustainable Communities in partnership with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative is accepting nominations for an upcoming Community Leadership Seminar beginning May 21. We are looking for individuals who are passionate about improving their community and are willing to work as change agents to support stronger community health.
This interactive workshop is designed for parents and citizen leaders within Northeast Iowa who would like to strengthen their leadership skills and promote healthy behavior change within their community. The workshop will help individuals build their leadership skills and provide the tools and information to work towards change. Learn from others who have created innovative systems change, identify individual leadership strengths, learn skills to improve community organizing abilities, network with other community leaders, and build an action plan to improve your community.
All materials and meals are free for this seminar held on the Luther College campus May 21, June 1 and June 11.  Participation is limited and will be based on nomination.   Nominations are due by March 29.
Click here to nominate yourself or others. 
 For more information contact Emily Neal at or 563-387-2138. 

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Whole Wellness, Whole Curriculum Teacher Training Scheduled

Posted: March 13, 2013
Back by popular demand! Spread the Word! Course fills quickly!

Luther College is happy to once again offer the Whole Wellness, Whole Curriculum course for re-certification/graduate credit to all teachers interested in infusing their curriculum with wellness. Applicable to all grades and subjects, this course will provide teachers with valuable training on how to enhance their existing curriculum with ideas and activities that create links between our health, our food, our activity level and our environment.

Course dates: April 2 (4:30 - 8), April 10 (8:30 - 4:30, substitute stipends available), and April 16 (4:30 - 8:30).

See this flyer for more information.  To register, contact, Emily Neal,, 563-387-2138, scholarships available for graduate credit.
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View the Iowa Food and Fitness Calendar