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Annual Reports

Posted: December 2, 2011
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Annual Reports

Active Living
Farm to School
School Wellness
Regional Messaging Campaign
NE Iowa Food & Farm Coalition

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TRRC receives $100,000 grant

Posted: November 14, 2011
The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs recently awarded the Turkey River Recreational Corridor (TRRC) $100,000 for Phase II Land Trail Development projects along the Turkey River Corridor as a part of the 2011 Iowa Great Places grant funding.

The Turkey River Recreational Corridor is a joint effort between Clayton and Fayette counties and the communities of Clermont, Elgin, and Elkader.

The Turkey River Recreational Corridor (TRRC) group has had much to celebrate the last few months.  In addition to partaking in Project AWARE and the official designation of the Turkey River becoming an Iowa Water Trail, they have also recently been awarded an Iowa Great Places Grant for $100,000. These grant funds will be divided up for the following projects within the corridor:

    $33,000 will be designated for the pedestrian bridge near the Valley School; this will fully connect the paved multi-use land trail on both sides of the Turkey River that stretches from Clermont to Elgin.

    $34,000 is set aside to provide multi-use trails within the City of Elkader. These trails will also tie in with the riverfront projects the City is planning to move forward with, and then connect with the existing trail in Elgin.

    The remaining $33,000 will be allocated to the engineering costs for the Motor Mill Bridge. The bridge will be rebuilt using modern materials, but will use the same design of the historic 1899 pin connecting Pratt through Truss Iron Bridge.

In addition to this grant award, Motor Mill has received a $20,000 Upper Mississippi Gaming Commission grant which will be used toward rebuilding the bridge. They have also recently received a $250,000 State Recreational trails grant that will be used for the Motor Mill Trail that will connect Elkader and Motor Mill.

The TRRC was named a Great Place in 2009, and this is the second grant award from Iowa Great Places for corridor projects.

Source: November 9, 2011 and UERPC news.

Tag: activeliving
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Bike and Pedestrian Education Get the Wheels Moving at Valley

Posted: November 7, 2011
As the trail going past the Valley school campus nears completion, the school wellness team and administration are taking steps to make sure students are prepared to use this new resource safety.

On October 27, K-6th grade students participated in a bike and pedestrian education class during gym class hosted by Nick Sobocinski from the Iowa Bicycle Coalition (IBC) and Elizabeth Makarewicz  and Heidi Skildum from the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative (FFI). 

"It takes a school and community partnership to put in the right infrastructure to make walking and biking to school both safe and accessible by all," says Skildum, FFI Safe Routes to School Liaison.  "Valley of Elgin is fortunate to have a trail that connects their school to nearby communities and even luckier to have school leadership that makes bike and pedestrian safety a priority!"

The educators taught age-appropriate lessons on visibility, rules of the road and trail etiquette.  The younger students practiced their knowledge on road signs and hand signals while the older students learned how to fit a helmet correctly and check the air, brakes and chain on their bicycle before riding.  Older students competed in a mini-bike relay race to test their bicycling skills as well as experience the joy of riding.  Fifty free helmets were given away to students in need while others earned stickers, magnets and erasers after each session.

Holly Mohs, Valley of Elgin's PE teacher, really appreciated the day's lessons.  "It was a great day and I am so glad [the IBC and FFI] were able to come and help us out."

This past year, the Fayette County Trails Committee and the Turkey River Recreational Corridor, with assistance from Fayette County Conservation Board and Northeast Iowa RC&D, secured funding for a new trail that connects Valley of Elgin Community School District with two nearby communities, Elgin and Clermont. 

Bike and pedestrian education is an effort supported by Iowa's Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.   SRTS programs are sustained efforts by families, other community members and leaders, schools and local, state and federal governments to enable and encourage children to safely walk or bicycle to school. Walking and biking to and after school offers an opportunity for children to get physical activity as part of their daily routine.

Many ingredients go into raising healthy kids.  Two of the most important are healthy, local food and physical activity. Thanks to intentional collaboration between the IBC, FFI, Valley of Elgin school wellness team and community trail partnerships, it is even easier for youth and families to join the fun! 

Tag: activeliving schoolwellness
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Valley Students Take Steps Toward a Healthier Iowa

Posted: October 30, 2011
As part of Governor Terry Branstad's "Healthiest State Initiative," on Friday, October 7th, approximately 525 students and 30 teachers at Valley Community School District walked just under a mile on Clermont's recreational trail to participate in the statewide "Start Somewhere" walk.  Through Branstad's October 7th event, Iowans were able to beat a record previously held by Canada of the largest number of people walking at one time.

Elementary and middle school students gathered at noon in the bleachers of the school's football stadium to listen to Valley PE teacher, Holly Mohs, stress the significance of such an event.  Mohs reminded students and teachers that one walk alone would not make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation.  For a true impact to be made, Iowans will need to make long-lasting lifestyle changes.

From the addition of a new biking and walking trail to the incorporation of local fresh fruits and vegetables into school lunches, Valley is taking the steps necessary to ensure that the healthy choice is the easy choice for all its students.

By Elizabeth Makarewicz, AmeriCorps
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Riceville students use the new Wildcat Trail to walk to school

Posted: October 30, 2011
Students of the Riceville School had a real treat on the morning of October 5, 2011 when Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm joined the students for International Walk to School Day. Students gathered at the Methodist Church and walked the several blocks to school with the guidance of Nurses Jeannie Watts, Cheryl Smalley, and Sandy Offen as adult mentors and several student crossing guards.

Upon arrival at the school, students and teachers gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the head of the newly paved Wildcat Trail, a walking path installed around the school grounds. Members of Buckwheat and Sons, the contractors for the trail, held the ribbon across the path and Senator Wilhelm cut the ribbon. After the ceremony, students and teachers took an inaugural lap around the path before heading to classes.

The Wildcat trail was installed as part of the school's commitment to healthy living. Students will be able to track their walking record along the trail. Art students will soon paint paw prints lining the Wildcat Trail.

To commemorate the special event, student participants were given a certificate of completion of International Walk to School Day, a fitness-themed coloring book, and Wildcat Trail bookmarks.

Elaine Govern, member of the school's wellness team, organized this event in conjunction with the school's "Walking Wednesdays," a project initiated to get students to safely walk to school the first Wednesday of each month.

By Melanie Stewart, AmeriCorps
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Garden tour demonstrates growing local food system

Posted: October 30, 2011
About 60 Howard County residents got a glimpse of northeast Iowa's growing local food system during a recent tour.

The tour was hosted by the Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative, a project of the W.K. Kellogg Found and Community program. Howard County Food & Fitness leaders are Sue Barnes, Joye Meyer, Elaine Govern and Laura Schmauss.

A garden brimming with vegetables and flowers greeted participants at Regional Health Systems of Howard County in Cresco. Morning glories growing over a cattle panel, pink blossomed Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, poppies and zinnias grow among the vegetables.

Joye Meyer with Community Health Services in Howard County said Crestwood High School students had worked to establish a school garden, but that didn't work out. She asked hospital administrator David Hartburg if they could plant a garden at the hospital, and he offered space to start the project in 2010.

Meyer said that Crestwood teacher Deb Olberman and her daughter Lauren have spent a lot of time working with the garden and organized about 50 Crestwood students to pick produce and share it with younger grades.

"They're introducing younger students to vegetables from seed to harvest," Meyer said.

Pepperfield Project founder and organic gardener David Cavagnaro helped students plant the garden.

Parsley, basil, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, carrots, beets, tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash, potatoes, lettuce, beans and sunflowers are grown. Vining plants grow up teepees providing a fun shelter for students.

"The garden is cared for by volunteers, and we're learning as we go," Meyer said. "It's a work in progress."

Meyer said she hopes that parents will bring young children to the garden and that it will be a vehicle to help people learn about gardening.

Vegetables harvested from the garden are used at the school. During in-between weeks the hospital uses the producer for both employees and patients.

The second tour stop was Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah where Cavagnaro and his Pepperfield Project crew have transformed a grassy courtyard into an edible landscape. Three years ago the hospital hired Pepperfield to put in a garden. A garden in one corner has expanded to fill the space. Organic gardening methods are used and the sandy soil is being built up using compost.

In 2010 a little over a ton of food was produced in the garden. The fruits, vegetables and herbs are used at the medical center. Pepperfield plants food crops requested by the hospital's food service staff.

Garden flowers are used for table decorations and at the reception desk.

"We call this an edible landscape," Cavagnaro said. "We believe vegetable gardens should be beautiful."

Last summer, Pepperfield workers Adam Ptacek and Heidi Skildum planted, weeded and harvested the garden. This year Skildum went on to a job with Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness, and John Kraus has joined Ptacek in the garden.

Vegetables are mostly open pollinated, heirloom varieties. The seeds originally came from the Seed Savers Exchange collection, and Cavagnaro grows and saves seeds in his home gardens north of Decorah.

"We have peppers that originated in Hungary and tomatoes from around the world," Cavagnaro said.

He and his Pepperfield crew assisted in designing and constructing 13 school gardens throughout northeast Iowa this spring.

Source: Jean Caspers-Simmet,, 10/06/2011
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Cavagnaro passing on love of gardening

Posted: October 30, 2011
When David Cavagnaro moved to his valley farm north of Decorah 20 years ago, it was an overgrazed pasture.

"Everything you see, the vegetable gardens, the fruit trees, the flowers, the house have all been put in over the years," Cavagnaro said.

A professional horticultural photographer, author, teacher and organic gardener, Cavagnaro recently hosted 60 people for the Howard County Food and Fitness tour.

Last year Cavagnaro donated his house, gardens, and some of his farmland to the Pepperfield Project, a nonprofit organization he founded to teach people hands-on gardening, cooking and agrarian life skills.

"As the founder of Pepperfield, it is my desire to preserve the cultural heritage of food growing and preparation techniques that have been lost, during the last century, as our society has become alienated from its agrarian roots," Cavagnaro said. "The plan is to turn this whole valley into an educational center, whose primary mission is to help reverse that trend. It's a work in progress. We hope to have many groups like this, classes and retreats."

An 1851 cabin was recently moved to Cavagnaro's farm. Rev. Ulrik Koren, founder of Luther College, held the first Washington Prairie Lutheran Church services in the cabin in 1853. The historic building, which has been restored, will provide housing for Pepperfield interns and class participants.

Cavagnaro put up a hoophouse last year where he and his Pepperfield crew grow the plants used in gardens and projects they work with in northeast Iowa.

"We filled and emptied the hoop house two and a half times this spring," Cavagnaro said.

Before Cavagnaro moved to Decorah, he lived on a farm in California and was 98 percent food self-suffcient. He had goats and made six kinds of cheese, kept bees and raised fruits and vegetables.

Seed Savers Exchange brought him to Decorah. He managed the seed preservation gardens there for eight years, and seed saving remains a integral part of his work.

"When we first moved here, we didn't have any old barns for animals, and we have neighbors in this valley who grow very good organic meat and eggs," Cavagnaro said. "But I want to be animal self-sufficent so that I have the whole nitrogen cycle to fertilize the gardens."

He has set up a pasture for chickens and plans to add goats next year.

"We are 100 percent fruit and vegetable self-sufficient," Cavagnaro said. "With a root cellar and canning, freezing and drying, we are able to grow all the fruits, vegetables and seeds that we need on the farm."

Cavagnaro grows his own amaranth and corn and is trying several wheat varieties. He has 100 acres that he can use to grow hay and grain.

"My goal is to be food self-sufficient except for the few things we can't grow here like olive oil and salt," he said.

Behind his house is a little citrus orchard. His dwarf trees are in containers that come into the house in the winter. He grows lemons, kumquats and tangerines. He has a fig tree in the house.

The gardens have apple trees and grape vines for juice and table grapes. He is propagating wine grapes. Edible shrubs include elderberries, service berries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

On the edge of the woods, he raises oyster and shitake mushrooms in innoculated logs.

By Jean Caspers-Simmet,, 10/06/2011

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New School Resource Contacts

Posted: October 27, 2011
There are five fresh, new faces in school cafeterias and gardens this year.  Five young women have joined the Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI) as resource contacts for area school districts.  There are two FoodCorps and three Iowa AmeriCorps State of Promise positions for the 2011-2012 school year.  

Resource contacts link FFI and school wellness outreach with twenty school districts.  Members assist the school wellness teams as they work together to deepen student, teacher and staff understanding about the benefits of growing and consuming local, healthy food and being physically active.  

For example, FoodCorps and AmeriCorps members assist with Farm to School cross-age teaching activities which involve training high school students to deliver lessons about local foods to younger students.  They also support school-community events that showcase Farm to School/Safe Routes to School programs and develop partnerships in the community.  

These resource contacts work hard to be in each school district every week.  They are based out of Luther College and work closely with the other FFI core partners, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission.  

The Food & Fitness family extends a warm welcome to these new members.

Sonja Arneson-Ecklund is an AmeriCorps member serving Central, N. Winneshiek, MFL MarMac and Clayton Ridge schools.  She is a graduate of Luther College in health and psychology.

Leah Chapman is a FoodCorps member serving Howard-Winneshiek, N. Fayette and West Central Schools.  She is a graduate of the University of Florida in political science, religion and sustainable studies.

Stephanie Conant is a FoodCorps member serving Turkey Valley, S. Winneshiek and Oelwein schools.  She is a graduate of Luther College in environmental studies.

Elizabeth Makarewicz is an AmeriCorps member serving Postville, Starmont and Valley schools.  She is a graduate of Beloit College (WI) in anthropology and Spanish.

Melanie Stewart is an AmeriCorps member serving New Hampton, St. Joseph's and Riceville schools.  She is a graduate of Grinnell College in biology.  She also assists Decorah schools with cross-age teaching.

In addition, Maren Stumme-Diers is serving as a community liaison for the Allamakee schools and working with the NE IA Food & Farm Coalition on institutional outreach.

The school outreach team is supervised by Emily Neal, Director of School Outreach at Luther College.  Neal is also is serving as the resource contact for the Decorah school district.

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Area Students Go for a Walk

Posted: October 27, 2011
Students across northeast Iowa celebrated active transportation the first week in October by participating in several school or community sponsored walking events to promote physical activity and the overall health of communities.

In one event, over 291,000 individuals walked one kilometer for Healthiest State Initiative's "Start Somewhere Walk" which is a privately lead public initiative to make Iowa the #1 state when it comes to being physically, emotionally and mentally healthy.

International Walk to School Day or I-Walk started in 1997 and events are aimed at bringing forth permanent change to encourage a more walkable America one community at a time.  Follow the link to see what schools throughout Northeast Iowa planned.

Live Healthy Iowa Kids' Fall Fitness Day had 56,466 youth participate, totaling 178 schools. Schools planned for a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity any day from Oct. 3 to 10. Many schools incorporated Fall Fitness Day with I-Walk activities.

Schools that reported 100 percent participation of their enrollment are eligible for a random drawing for cash prizes. Live Healthy Iowa awarded cash prizes to seven Iowa schools to go toward their physical education programs for their participation in the event.  New Albin Elementary, Central schools of Elkader and Nashua-Plainfield Elementary all won a cash prize.

Here are other schools that participated in "I-Walk" or "Start Somewhere Walk":

Crestwood Elementary, Cresco; Decorah Elementary & Middle Schools; MFL MarMac Elementary, Monona; New Hampton; West Union Elementary; Oelwein Elementary Schools; Postville; Riceville Elementary; South Winneshiek; Turkey Valley; Valley of Elgin; Waterville Elementary; East and West Elementary, Waukon; and West Central.
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4-H Food & Fitness Regional Leadership Team

Posted: October 24, 2011
The Northeast Iowa FFI 4-H Regional Leadership Team kicked off the year with their FFI 4-H Coaches and County Youth Coordinators on September 29 in Calmar. Eleven schools were represented and youth participated in an evaluation process to capture the impact of their work in schools and their communities.

At its foundation, 4-H has three, national mission mandates that also align with Food and Fitness.  Those mandates include:
  • Healthy Lifestyles
  • Citizenship and Leadership                
  • Science and Technology
The Regional Leadership Team meets four times during the school-year and is focused on work around these three mandates. Education and experiences from the Leadership Team meetings is encouraged to be taken back to FFI 4-H Youth Teams and School Wellness Teams. Building communication and leadership skills in this team of 36 youth is strengthening their level of participation in our region.

Allamakee Community High School Stef Perkins, FFI Coach, Sami Manning and Jordan Manning serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

Postville Community High School Amanda Rodgers, FFI Coach, Dallas Imohel, Rey Mucia and Josh Jacobs serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.   
New Hampton Community High School Jim Russ, FFI Coach, Beth Wickham, Holly Meirick and Lindsey Gaul serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.
St. Joseph Community School Amy Kloberdanz, FFI Coach, Adam Laures and Kayla Gilbert serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.   

Sumner-Fredricksburg Schools Alicia Jones, FFI Coach, Kaetlyn Franzen, Steve Yungtum
and Brodie Schaefer as the Youth Leadership Representatives.  
Turkey-Valley Community School Clint Rodgers, FFI Coach, John Hageman and Jenny Kuenen serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

Central of Elkader Community High School Trevor Arnold, FFI Coach, Katie Lower and Natalie Fitzgerald serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

Clayton Ridge Community High School Dana Einck, FFI Coach, Tristan Randall and Hillary Morarend serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.   

North Fayette Community High School Justin Heins, FFI Coach, Kaylee Michelson and Marissa Bouska serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

Oelwein Community High School Scott Smalley, FFI Coach, Heidi Kalb serves as the Youth Leadership Representative.

West Central Community High School Lauren Adams, FFI Coach, Devin Decker and Krista Bushkofoky serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

Starmont Community High School Julie Riechers, FFI Coach, Hannah Andreae serves as the Youth Leadership Representative.

Howard-Winn Community School Deb Obermann, FFI Coach, Drew Hartburg and Lauren Obermann serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

Riceville Community High School Paula Kelley, FFI Coach, Marcus Uthe and Joanna Sunnes serves as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

Decorah Community School Gina Holthaus, FFI Coach, Liz Hovden and Shelby Varney serve as the Youth Leadership Representatives.

North Winneshiek Community School Cristy Nimrod, FFI Coach, Elizabeth Smith and Natalie Heffern serves as the Youth Leadership Representatives.   

South Winneshiek Community Schools Sheryl Holien, FFI Coach, Becky Althouse serves as the Youth Leadership Representative.

For more information on joining 4-H, contact your county ISU Extension and Outreach office.
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