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Leopold Center and ISU Extension help increase demand and capacity for local foods

Posted: February 19, 2012
It's like a delicious cycle.

Local growers increase production of fruits and vegetables; consumers appreciate the improved availability and ask for more; growers expand to meet increased demand.

The Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative is driving such a cycle in their region by bringing together growers, community members and Iowa State Extension staff who work together to increase access to locally produced foods.

The coalition from northeast Iowa was selected as the first pilot group by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture Regional Food System Working Group in 2006.

The Working Group is a network of 16 autonomous groups covering the state of Iowa that support local food system efforts.

"Each group determines what is important for their region, and the Center assists them with strategic planning and organization," says Craig Chase, interim program leader of the Leopold Center's Marketing and Food Systems Initiative.

The creation of Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative's plan brought their group to the national stage and caught the attention of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which designated Northeast Iowa as one of nine communities to become models of change.

The foundation provided funding to create a multi-year plan for Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties to grow their local food infrastructure.  The initiative addresses policies, practices and systems that support healthy communities and provide affordable food. It works with regulatory agencies to minimize barriers to local food purchases from both sides, and it leverages funding and expertise to serve its mission.

Bob Raymond operates a small market garden and farm stand near Lansing. The initiative provided training to prepare farmers for on-farm food safety audits. Raymond is one of 13 producers who passed a U.S. Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit.

"They offered the unique opportunity to get a GAP audit performed at no cost, with just a small cost for two days of intensive food safety training. It was won-derful. About 13 of us went through and passed," Raymond says. "If we want to be involved in selling food to the public we're going to have to develop our GAPs. Coaching and training are part of that—I'm encouraged and confident we can get through the obstacles to get through the GAP if we combine ISU Extension and the Initiative."

Success breeds success.

Efforts of the Initiative have increased the growing season in the region as growers set up more greenhouse space in response to increased consumer demand. The increased availability of off-season produce in the area has led schools, care centers and private consumers to realize they can purchase local produce for nearly nine months out of the year.

"By tracking food sales from just four to five producers, our region saw an increase of more than $1.2 million in increased local food sales last year, bringing local food sales to more than $1.7 million last year," says Brenda Ranum, regional extension education director.

The cycle continues.

Source: ISU College of Ag, STORIES newsletter,

Tag: foodsytems
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Bank Donates Snowshoes to Howard Co. Conservation

Posted: February 19, 2012
To date, skiing has become an increasingly popular sport for the region, but because of a recent donation area residents and tourists can enjoy another winter sport: snowshoeing.

Indeed, C US Bank has donated funding to the Howard County Conservation Board for the purchase of 23 sets of snowshoes. The snowshoes were purchased at Cresco Bicyles.

Bank President Scott Thomson said, "As a community-minded bank, we value additional tourism that will hopefully come to the Cresco area because of the snowshoes."

Thomson also cites the importance of healthy living, stating that the snowshoes will provide citizens and tourists with another option for exercise and wellness.

Angela Bries, Howard County Naturalist, said, "The Conservation Office receives calls from all over Iowa, asking about [local] trail conditions."

She also says she routinely sees people from both Iowa and Minnesota using the trail system in Howard County.

Cresco residents Mark Johnson and his wife, Brenda Steffens Johnson, have donated plenty of time and energy throughout the years, keeping up the trail system that surrounds the Prairie's Edge Nature Center.

The Johnsons agree that skiing and snowshoeing offers a beneficial exercise alternative. They say both sports get people out of the house during the long winter months.

"Cross country skiing [also known as or XC skiing] is one of the best overall activities for conditioning," said Brenda, "and snowshoeing, especially when poles are used, is also a good total body workout." 

The Johnsons say there are a couple of spots, in particular, near the Nature Center that specifically accommodates snowshoeing as well as hiking. "Brenda, with the help of Howard County Conservation Board staff, opened two one-half mile trails on the south side of the [Turkey] River," said Mark, adding, "These trails are designated for snowshoe and foot traffic."

Skis and snowshoes can be checked out at the Nature Center, located at 11562 Valley Ave., just southwest of Cresco. There is a $25 deposit to use the equipment. The deposit will be returned when the equipment is returned.

To check out skis or snowshoes you must be at the Nature Center by 3:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, and on the weekends the Nature Center is open. The Nature Center will be open on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, from 12-noon until 3 p.m.

Source:,  February 7, 2012

Tag: systemchange activeliving

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Luther College's food service supplier, Sodexo, says it has reached its local food use goal

Posted: February 15, 2012
Luther College's food services provider, Sodexo, says it has surpassed the 20 percent mark in purchase of locally produced foods.

Sodexo estimates that it spent more than one-fifth of its food procurement expenditures for the 2011 calendar year to purchase food that was produced and processed within a 150-mile radius of Decorah.

"Increasing our purchases of locally produced foods will continue to be a focus of our operations in 2012," said Sodexo spokesperson Wayne Tudor.  "While we are pleased to have reached our 20 percent goal for the past year, we plan to increase our purchases of local produce in the year ahead."

A major portion of the locally produced food purchases included yogurt, ice cream, cheese curds, other dairy products and meats. The company also buys local vegetable produce in season, including all produce from the Luther Gardens planted and tended on campus by students and staff of the college's Sustainability and Environmental Education programs.

Curtis Raddatz, a purchasing specialist with Sodexo, said other primary suppliers of local foods include Grass Run Farms of Dorchester; WW Homestead Dairy of Waukon; Country View Dairy of Hawkeye; and the 16 producers and growers affiliated with GROWN Locally, a cooperative of small farms in northeast Iowa that provides fresh, high quality foods to local food service institutions.  GROWN Locally producers include Andon Acres, Maynard; G It's Fresh, Ridgeway; Heathered Ridge Farm, Postville; J&J Farm, Waukon; Klauke Family Farm, Dorchester; Kymar Acres, Waukon; Mike and Laurie Tallman, Castalia; Peake Orchards, Waukon; Prairieview Vineyard, Decorah; Raspberry Valley Farm, Elgin; Rawson Berries, West Union; Ridgetop Acres, Decorah; Rockytopp Farm, Lansing; Tir na n'Og, Farmersburg; Top of the Hollow Farm; Decorah; Village Creek Farm, Lansing; and J & J Produce, LLC, Hawkeye.


Tag: foodsystems
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UERPC Planning Team to Facilitate 30 Community Engagement Meetings

Posted: January 27, 2012
Upper Explorerland's planning staff will be out at one of 14 communities across the region nearly every evening (and even a couple of Saturdays!) for the months of January and February.  Staff will be conducting the community meetings as part of the public engagement efforts for the four comprehensive "Smart" plans currently underway in our region. 

Each meeting will provide the public with the opportunity to offer input into the future plans and goals for their community.  Following the Iowa Smart Planning Principles, each session will cover just a few of the 13 Smart Planning Elements so that community residents have ample time to think about and discuss their town.   Background information and historical data will be shared as it pertains to the topics of the day prior to a discussion on existing assets and future needs or desires. 

Participants will be asked to envision the community in 15 or 20 years – will it be a place their children want to live, work and play?   If you live in Winneshiek or Fayette Counties, Lime Springs or McGregor, watch for posters in your community and plan on attending and add your voice to the think tank!

Tag: communityengagement
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USDA Unveils Historic Improvements to Meals Served in America's Schools

Posted: January 25, 2012
New Standards Will Improve the Health and Wellbeing of 32 Million Kids Nationwide

Jan. 25. 2012 – First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today unveiled new standards for school meals that will result in healthier meals for kids across the nation. The new meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in more than fifteen years and improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day. The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by the First Lady as part of her Let's Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama.

"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "And when we're putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won't be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables."

"Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids," said Vilsack. "When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future – today we take an important step towards that goal."

The final standards make the same kinds of practical changes that many parents are already encouraging at home, including:
•    Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; • Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
•    Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;
•    Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and
•    Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

A sample lunch menu with a before and after comparison is available to view and download in PDF and JPG formats. 

USDA built the new rule around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine —a gold standard for evidence-based health analysis. The standards were also updated with key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the Federal government's benchmark for nutrition – and aimed to foster the kind of healthy changes at school that many parents are already trying to encourage at home, such as making sure that kids are offered both fruits and vegetables each day, more whole grains, and portion sizes and calorie counts designed to maintain a healthy weight.

USDA received an unprecedented 132,000 public comments on its proposed standards (available on the web at – and made modifications to the proposed rule where appropriate. USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said: "We know that robust public input is essential to developing successful standards and the final standards took a number of suggestions from stakeholders, school food service professions and parents to make important operational changes while maintaining nutritional integrity."

The new standards are expected to cost $3.2 billion over the next five years -- less than half of the estimated cost of the proposed rule and are just one of five major components of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, now implemented or under development, that will work together to reform school nutrition. In addition to the updated meal standards, unprecedented improvements to come include:
•    The ability to take nutrition standards beyond the lunchline for the first time ever, foods and beverages sold in vending machines and other venues on school campuses will also contribute to a healthy diet;
•    Increased funding for schools – an additional 6 cents a meal is the first real increase in 30 years – tied to strong performance in serving improved meals;
•    Common-sense pricing standards for schools to ensure that revenues from non-Federal sources keep pace with the Federal commitment to healthy school meals and properly align with costs; and
•    Training and technical assistance to help schools achieve and monitor compliance.

The final nutrition standards released today also provide more time for schools to implement key changes, which will be largely phased in over a three-year period, starting in School Year 2012-2013. For example, schools will be permitted to focus on changes in the lunches in the first year, with most changes in breakfast phased in during future years.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Summer Food Service Program, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Together these programs make up the federal nutrition safety net.

Tag: schoolwellness
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Wings Park and other local schools receive ˜Fuel Up to Play 60 grants

Posted: January 25, 2012
Wings Park Elementary in Oelwein recently received word that their Fuel Up to Play 60 program has received a $4,000 grant from the national organization.

Fuel Up promotes youth fitness through exercise and good eating habits and encourages the availability and consumption of nutrient-rich foods, along with at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

The grant will be used to purchase exercise equipment for classrooms, purchasing incentive items for a Fun Night, and to enhance signage in the lunchroom/kitchen area to better promote healthy eating.

Tag: schoolwellness
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FFI Youth 4-H Teams Invited to Attend State Conference

Posted: January 25, 2012
The NE IA Food & Fitness Initiative is coordinating a bus for interested FFI Youth Teams to attend the "Students Taking Charge" Workshop in Ankeny on March 2.

Students Taking Charge is a national movement of youth to mobilize, organize, and speak out for healthy and active schools in every state. The one-day workshop will empower youth to make their school a place where it's easy to be healthy.

Schools may send a team of four youth to represent their school. Transportation is being arranged through the Howard-Winneshiek School District.  The main departure point will be Cresco with other potential pick-up sites based on school/student interest.

FFI 4-H Coaches are also invited to register and attend with the youth.  If youth coaches are unable to attend, the FFI staff and AmeriCorps Resource Contacts can serve as the adult chaperones for the day.

If there is enough interest, this will serve the Spring FFI 4-H Regional Youth Leadership Team meeting. A FFI Spring Conference is also being planned for March 21 which will engage additional youth and FFI 4-H Youth Coaches. More information about the Spring Conference will be sent when plans are complete.

Registrations for the Students Taking Charge workshop are due February 10 for schools to be eligible to receive mini-grant dollars attached to the workshop.

Please consider this opportunity for your youth and school. Click here to see the conference flyer.

To register your school team for this great opportunity, contact Lynette Houser, ISU Extension Region 4 Youth Coordinator at 563-382-2949 or

Tag: youthengagement
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Whole Wellness, Whole Curriculum" course to be offered

Posted: January 13, 2012
Luther College in conjunction with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative is offering a 1 credit course on infusing your curriculum with Wellness.

"Whole Wellness, Whole Curriculum" starts February 15th and also meets February 22nd and 28th.  It will help teachers incorporate wellness ideas and topics into any curriculum.
A limited number of scholarships based on financial need are available for the course. Graduate or Re-certification credit available. For more information, contact: Emily Neal,, 563-387-2138 or 563-568-1456

Tag: schoolwellness
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Central Students Learn About Yoga: Not as easy at it looks

Posted: January 5, 2012
The middle school and high school students in Trevor Arnold's PE class spent two days in November learning some yoga basics with guest yoga instructor, Sonja Areneson-Ecklund, the FFI AmeriCorps Resource Contact for Central schools.

Only a few of the students has practiced yoga before, but the classes caught on quickly.

The 30 minute session included spoken narration for a warm-up, a sun salutation, a warrior sequence, a standing balance section, a stretching section, and a final relaxation pose.

Students were also exposed to new types of yoga: breathing, restful positions to take as break during homework time and some peaceful mantras.

The overall impression of the two-day yoga experience was positive.  Teachers reported overhearing students say they found it challenging and they didn't know yoga could be such a workout or that it could make you sore the next day.  

The effort to bring new forms of physical activity in PE classes and other academic settings is part of the Active Living component of the NE Iowa FFI.

Tag: schoolwellness
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Excited for Zucchini in Oelwein

Posted: January 5, 2012
By Stephanie Conant, FoodCorps and Oelwein FFI Resource Contact
I had a blast this month in Oelwein elementary schools doing taste test samplings of zucchini and dried plums (also known prunes) as part of the BASICS Nutrition Program lessons.

Interestingly, when I asked Oelwein students what they were going to eat over the holidays they all raised their hands and listed off fruits and vegetables.  Many of the students also went on to tell me that "instead of eating junk food all the time he/she also needed to eat healthy food."  It's possible that students were just listing fruits and vegetables because I was there; however I believe the wellness work of administrators, teachers, and staff in Oelwein schools is really having an effect on students. 

On my second day in Oelwein, I talked with a teacher who had a son who had tasted the zucchini and plums the day before.  She told me her son was so excited about the zucchini that she was going to buy some at the store.  Seeing the students enthusiastic about fruits and vegetables is helping me find meaning in my work, and in this celebratory season.

Pictured right:  Conant talks to students at Turkey Valley about pumpkins.
Tag: schoolwellness
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