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Local Food and Farm Program awards four grants

Posted: March 13, 2013
The Local Food and Farm Program has selected four projects to receive funding in 2013 that move toward the goal of strengthening Iowa's local food economy.

The Local Food and Farm Program (LFFP), coordinated by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, is part of an initiative established by the Iowa Legislature in 2011. The program's advisory council awarded $28,581 to four special projects, an increase of more than $10,000 from last year.

Rich Wrage, Boone County Extension and Outreach, received $9,872 to investigate the feasibility of a partnership between a local food aggregator and a catering business to share expenses.

Nick McCann, Winneshiek County Extension and Outreach, received $9,400 to help local food businesses become more competitive through vendor-managed inventories.

Diane Weiland, Wallace Centers of Iowa, received $6,824 to train apprentices interested in starting small farming operations.

Flannery Cerbin, National Center for Appropriate Technology, received $2,485 to collect stories and best practices from Iowa's Farm to School movement and archive them on a website.

"These projects will address several challenges in our current food system," said Lynn Heuss, LFFP assistant coordinator. "At the completion of these projects, because we have an evaluation strategy in place, we will have data that can potentially be used as templates around the state."

Learn more about LFFP at
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AmeriCorps Service Members "Grow Healthy Kids"

Posted: March 12, 2013
AmeriCorps and FoodCorps service members in NE Iowa are celebrating National AmeriCorps Week, March 9-17.  Every day, six service members give their service to area schools to ensure that schools continue to be a place of learning and growth and are an ideal environment to practice the belief that "Together, We Grow Healthy Kids!"

Each year during AmeriCorps Week, the commitment of AmeriCorps members and alums is recognized by highlighting the extraordinary impact AmeriCorps makes across the nation every day. It is a time to salute AmeriCorps members and alums for their service, thank AmeriCorps community partners, and communicate AmeriCorps members' impact on communities and on the lives of those who serve.

Hundreds of events are taking place across the United States, including service projects, recruitment fairs, school presentations, alumni gatherings, and awards ceremonies.

Through the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, Luther College hosts four AmeriCorps and two FoodCorps service members.  These service members travel from their base at Luther's Center for Sustainable Communities to 18 school districts within the six-county area to assist students and staff in creating healthier school environments.

In conjunction with school wellness teams, service members teach nutrition and cooking lessons, conduct classroom taste tests, support Farm to School programs, maintain school gardens, support active school environments and implement staff wellness initiatives. By integrating wellness into curriculum service members are empowering students as they grow and learn the values of healthy living.

AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 men and women in intensive service each year at more than 15,000 locations including nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community- and faith-based groups across the country. FoodCorps, operating under the AmeriCorps umbrella, is a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy. 80 FoodCorps members serve in 12 states across the country where they conduct hands-on food education, build and tend school gardens, and facilitate getting high-quality local food into school cafeterias.

For more information on the impact AmeriCorps is having in northeast Iowa region, visit
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Local Food Directory Needs Producer Info

Posted: March 6, 2013
The Northeast Iowa Food & Farm Coalition (NIFF) is updating the Local Food Directory for Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties.  This directory is part of the Iowa Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign.

The directory includes listings for producers of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs, baked goods, honey, herbs and syrups.  In addition, local farmers markets, stores and restaurants featuring local food are also listed.

Any producers or businesses who would like to be listed in the 2013 directory should visit for more information.  Producers may also contact Teresa Wiemerslage, ISU Extension and Outreach at 563-794-0599.   Directory items need to be received by April 1 to be included in this year's publication.

The NIFF Coalition and the Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI) are working together to create community environments that support access to fresh, locally grown, healthy, affordable food and safe environments for physical activity and play. More information about these programs can be found at
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Christensen Receives Statewide Honor for Physical Activity Efforts

Posted: March 4, 2013
Ashley Christensen, Regional Safe Routes to School Liaison for Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, has been awarded the 2013 Bureau of Nutrition and Health Promotion Excellence in Physical Activity award from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Each year, the Bureau of Nutrition and Health Promotion at the Iowa Department of Public Health recognizes one individual throughout Iowa who has shown commitment and passion in the area of physical activity. Christensen will be recognized at the annual Governor's Conference on Public Health in Ames on April 9-10.

As the Regional Safe Routes to School Liaison, Christensen is dedicated to increasing physical activity levels among youth by enabling and encouraging students to safely walk and bicycle to and from school. Partnering with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, Christensen serves over 10,000 students in Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette and Winneshiek counties in Northeast Iowa. Christensen holds two Bachelor of Science degrees from Iowa State University in Kinesiology and Health and Animal Science; she is also a Certified Health Education Specialist.

Christensen offers assistance to Northeast Iowa schools and communities for Safe Routes to School planning, education and activities. To learn more, contact her at 563-382-6171 or Upper Explorerland is a regional council of governments helping communities build the future of Northeast Iowa ( The Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative promotes healthy, locally grown food and active living and play in the Northeast Iowa region (
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National Innovation Fund Grant will Support Local Food Hub

Posted: March 2, 2013

The Convergence Partnership, a collaboration of six of the nation's leading funders and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has awarded $50,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque (CFGD) to support its work building healthier, more equitable communities.

The awards honor new or expanded local and regional innovative initiatives that help ensure all people can live, work and play in healthy communities. CFGD is one of only 13 local foundations in the United States to be recognized with a 2012 National Innovation Fund grant. Grants totaled $1.85 million, with a required foundation match of $2 for every $1 awarded.

This unique project is collaboration between the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and CFGD. 

CFGD was specifically honored for its work to plan, create and nurture a strong nonprofit framework for local food producers in a six-county region (Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek) to market, process and distribute healthy food to vulnerable children and their families through a local food hub. The newly formed organization will fill a void: the need for an organization to facilitate local food outreach, education and aggregation.

Nick McCann, project coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach, described the Food Hub, "Developing solid business systems that are capable of delivering healthy and local food at a good price to vulnerable children and their families is a priority of the food hub.  This grant will get us started in the right direction for this project."

The nonprofit's mission will focus on education and health, and transaction fees from food aggregation activities will sustain the organization. CFGD will initially support the organization through the Convergence Partnership Innovation Fund grant and its related funding partners.

Over time, financial support will come from local farmers, school districts and institutions doing business with the food hub. The nonprofit will focus on pilot projects to address barriers to get more local food into schools, stores and institutions
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Luther College Launches Center for Sustainable Communities

Posted: February 22, 2013
The establishment of the Luther College Center for Sustainable Communities doesn't just consolidate all of the college's many sustainability efforts under one umbrella.  It also will be a means of enhancing sustainability program outreach to Decorah and surrounding communities.

CSC Director Jon Jensen tells, "We want to be able to say "If you're interested (in sustainability programs), can we help you?"

For instance, the Center will work closely with the Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative and its dealings with school districts throughout the area.  Jensen says one of the roles of the CSC will be to ask schools what they need--not just in terms of buying locally-grown food, but also in handling energy conservation projects, or a host of other "green" initiatives.  The same type of approach will be made to area governments, churches and businesses.

A 36-member volunteer group will spend the next three months drafting a strategic plan for the CSC, then will ask for public input in April.  Several Luther College students could do internships with local governments during the summer before the CSC becomes fully operational in the fall.

Jensen sees these college--community partnerships as "win-win" situations for both parties, giving local groups valuable expertise about sustainability programs, while giving Luther students valuable real-world experience.  He's hoping to spread the word about the new Luther program to groups throughout Northeast Iowa.  Anyone with suggestions or questions for him about the Center for Sustainable Communities can contact him at
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5 Ways to Stay Connected with FFI

Posted: February 17, 2013
We all have busy lives with very little time. Web surfing is fun but can take hours going to visit every single website and blog you enjoy. Wouldn't it be fabulous if you could just get all the headlines of the most current stories from all your favorite websites and blogs in one place?
Our partnerships are important, and we don't want you to miss a thing.  Here are five easy things you can do to stay connected to the NE Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative.

1.    Like and share our Facebook page with your friends. Go to, click the arrow at the bottom right of the cover photo and click SHARE and invite your friends to LIKE us.
2.    Sign up to have blog posts delivered to your straight to your inbox. Go to and type your email into the box on the right sidebar.

3.    Our news feed has an RSS feed to have our news delivered straight to your inbox or news reader. (It's the orange button).  Learn more about RSS feeds here. 

4.    Visit and follow our Youtube channel. By "following" the channel, you will get email updates each time new content is posted.

5.    Sign up to receive our e-newsletter. Get monthly news, stories, event and program information delivered to your inbox.
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Wellness Center Opens in Elma

Posted: February 17, 2013
Rural town of 550 people rallies to create a center for their health

The Elma Area Wellness Center (EAWC) officially opened on Sunday, Jan. 27. It's an endeavor that community members began discussing about a year ago, and to date, ample funds have been raised and hundreds of volunteer hours have been logged.

Callie Weigel, marketing chairperson of The BRIDGE Organization, Inc., noted that, at the time, the organization had wanted to get more young people involved. "They wanted to develop more leadership in the community," she said. "Presently, our membership is in the 50+ age group. We wanted to hack into all of the younger minds in the community and steer into the direction of their ideas."

Through that line of thinking, the organization formed the Young Professionals group, offering them $10,000 in seed money to come together and create their vision for what Elma should be.

"We sent out a number of letters to people who were roughly aged 40 and under," said Erin Ludwig, EAWC board secretary and member. "We told them we'd be having a meeting and we wanted their input as far as what would make Elma a better place. From there came ideas – people wanted more social activities and outings, and a wellness center. So, we formed committees, and one of those committees was for the wellness center, which started off by offering Zumba classes."

The group then conducted a survey, asking community members whether they would be interested in joining a wellness center, as well as the classes and equipment they would like to see.

"One of the questions was: ‘Would you consider being a Board member?'" noted Ludwig. "Then we pulled those people in and started to dig deeper, addressing which buildings could potentially be used, and is the idea still viable based on the response of our survey?"

The group also discussed the amount of money they would need to raise in order to renovate a building, and to purchase equipment.

Ludwig adds, "We talked about different structures, [such as] would it be run by the City, or would it be non-profit? We sorted that out by weighing pros and cons, and from there we decided to become a non-profit organization."

The organization has a seven-member Board of Directors, including: Jamie Gansen-President, Angie Huffman-Vice President, Brad Shatek-Treasurer, Erin Ludwig-Secretary, Jennifer Johnson, Ryan McDermott, and Ann O'Brien. Other committee members include: Ken Gansen, Derrick Huffman, Scott O'Brien, Bruce Weigel and Callie Weigel.

The organization decided to renovate and operate the wellness center at a building located downtown, at 501 Busti Ave.

Board member Ryan McDermott said, "We wanted the best location available, and we decided on this building. It's right here in the middle of town; people go by it all the time. . .We then talked to the bank, which graciously donated the building to us."

The new community venue was built entirely by community volunteer labor and funded entirely by donations – more than $100,000 worth.

"Right off the bat we had a number of very generous donors who gave us large gifts to get us started," McDermott said, "and then we started sending letters out into the community, and money started coming in – from both the usual places as well as unexpected places."

He adds, "We surpassed our $100,000 goal."

As far as volunteer work? "If we had to log all of the hours people have put into this place, it's probably in the thousands by now," McDermott said.

Meanwhile, Ludwig notes, "Everything we have this far is paid for, but we have a wish list – both with renovations and equipment needs. For example, we want to replace the north windows of the buildings to become more energy efficient."

She adds, "We're seeing great interest in our spin bikes. We have six of them, and we want to increase that number. We're also wanting equipment for different classes, as we hear more interest and get instructors. For example, we've talked about [obtaining] mats for gymnastics and wrestling, and we'd like to get some resistance bands and exercise balls."

Jennifer Johnson, Board member and wellness center member, has enjoyed working out at the facility. "I love it," she said, adding that her favorite part about the facility is the location. "It's so easy to get here. I live right in town, and I don't have to take an out-of-town trip just to work out."

Board members hope the location of the wellness center will give area residents the motivation to work out more. "It has with me," said Johnson. "I'm excited because I've been waiting for something like this here."

Weigel notes, "To me, one of the biggest advantages is the fact that it's open 24/7. With your electronic key card, you can fit your exercise into your day."

She adds, "If you have a busy day and you can't get there for a set class at 5 o'clock everyday, you can make your own [timeframe] work – whether that's 5 in the morning, 5 at night, or whatever time you need."

Board member Brad Shatek says he is also looking forward to being able to work out at the facility. "My wife and I will probably be here quite a bit, I'm sure," he said, adding, "I also have several friends in the community who have used it pretty much everyday since it's been open."

The wellness center offers Zumba, Yoga and Cardio Blast classes, circuit weight room, free weights and exercise room with many cardio/strength equipment options, uni-sex restroom with shower facilities, handicap-accessible restroom, sauna room, lockers and social area. The facility also showcases flat screen TV's for member viewing and MP3 player hook-ups on many cardio machines for member listening enjoyment while working out.

For more information, visit the Elma Area Wellness Center online at

Source:, February 7, 2013.
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W. K. Kellogg Foundation Awards $900,000 to Food & Fitness

Posted: February 14, 2013
The W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has awarded $900,000 to the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative (FFI) to be used in the next four years. The award money will fund current strategies related to school wellness, food systems, and active living with an additional focus on the caregivers of children from birth to age five in Northeast Iowa.

The 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 20008 when it was selected as one of nine sites 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.  

With the additional support, the initiative now moves from the implementation phase to an extended funding phase with a 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.

These organizations, each with differing missions, unite under a common vision for the region—to provide access to healthy, locally grown food with abundant opportunities for physical activity and play every day.  

"A nine-year investment by a private foundation into a region is unprecedented," said Ann Mansfield, FFI Project Coordinator.  "It also speaks volumes about the quality of the work and the strong community relationships needed to sustain it."  

"Healthier people make stronger families and vibrant communities," said Mansfield.  "The continued support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will help us to further deepen this work with our partners and communities."  

Collaborative Strategies
The newest strategy of FFI focuses on early childhood care settings.  The work is being coordinated by Haleisa Johnson who is housed at Northeast Iowa Community College.  

"It is very important to include early childhood outreach because recent studies show increasing prevalence of obesity among children ages two to five. Over 21% of children age two to five are overweight or obese," says Johnson.  "If we do not address the health risk of our youngest children they could face a life of chronic diseases which will in turn affect our health system."
While the new strategy is being put into place, FFI plans to build on the three existing strategies by continuing to support area youth as leaders of change in wellness in school and community environments.  

Healthy Places
Individual behavior change is difficult without the support and influence of healthy environments in which to live, work and play.  Because school are hubs of a community, FFI has focused on school wellness for the past three years.  

They have worked to engage each school district within the six counties to create practices that benefit the well-being of students and creates a culture which promotes and sustains healthy habits.

School districts are now turning those healthy practices into policy.  Activities with proven outcomes for students, like walking school bus programs, recess before lunch, stronger food and beverage policies, active classrooms, and strong farm to school programs are paving the road for long-term system change.

"In so many ways we are a culture of excess," said Emily Neal, Director of School Outreach at Luther College.  "Many of our excessive behaviors are those that drive us to be one of the most unhealthy, developed nations in the world."

"Schools are a place to counterbalance societal excess, to model critical thinking and healthy lifestyle habits, and to provide the skills and habits to be productive and healthy citizens of the world," she said.

Outside of the school walls, the Active Living Work Group is dedicated to ensuring that people use the natural and built environments for physical activity, play and active transportation.

Safe Routes to School (SRTS), an international movement to enable and encourage students to safely walk and bike to and from school, is a priority FFI focus.  SRTS efforts began in the region in 2008. Since then, over 2000 students walk and bike to and from school, an increase of nearly 50%.

Ashley Christensen, Regional Safe Routes to School Liaison at Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, spearheads SRTS efforts in Northeast Iowa.

"Our work is really one of a kind in that we are the only regionally-based SRTS program in the state and maybe even the country," said Christensen.  "We are bringing the benefits of Safe Routes to School to rural populations."

"With all the Safe Routes to School excitement and enthusiasm in Northeast Iowa, now is the time to really push forward," continued Christensen. "We need to continue to work hard today so younger generations can enjoy a healthier, happier and safer tomorrow."

Access to Healthy Food
In the next four years, FFI plans to continue making locally grown food available and affordable in communities, neighborhoods, and institutions.

"Demand for locally produced food including fruits and vegetables as well as livestock products has shown substantial growth. Buying and selling locally produced food revitalizes neighborhoods by creating and keeping jobs and money in the community," says Teresa Wiemerslage, Leader for Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition and ISU Extension and Outreach program coordinator.

In 2011, twenty-five food producers reported over $3.5 million in local food sales.  Local schools have purchased over $14,400 from local farmers through farm to school efforts.  More locally grown foods can be found on grocery stores shelves.  

Wiemerslage says it is not only important to increase the sales of locally grown foods, but to also increase the number of farmers in the area to keep the sales numbers growing.

"Iowa's farmers are getting older and we need more farmers.  Almost 30% of Iowa's farmers are over 65; only 7% of our farmers are under 35.  Local food production is a great way for young for people to enter agriculture," Wiemerslage said. "We want to see agriculture grow, and bring new ideas and new families to northeast Iowa."

Next Generation
A key ingredient of FFI's success has been the intentional engagement of youth in the planning and implementation of the work.  Youth are viewed as partners and provide additional insight and enthusiasm for the changes that will directly impact their generation.

Their actions are leading to systems change in schools and communities.  Youth have worked with school food service staff to establish salad bars in lunch programs and to get healthier food options on their ala carte food lines and in concession stands.  They also deliver nutrition education and modeling healthy habits for their peers and younger children.

Youth outreach has become a part of the Iowa 4-H program to provide structure and a long-term home in an existing program.  Lynette Houser, ISU Extension Regional Youth Coordinator points to the four outcomes the 4-H program strives to develop in each of its youth partners: successful learners, effective leaders, productive citizens and outstanding communicators.   Over 240 youth were members of their school-based FFI 4-H teams in 2012.

"Positive youth development is the key component to youth engagement in the FFI and vital for sustaining youth leadership in the work," said Houser. "The additional funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will allow more youth in NE Iowa the opportunity to transform their environments through a multitude of outlets."

"The youth involved in FFI are passionate, engaged and have great ideas.  We need to listen to them.  It's their future," she said.
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Food Safety and Postharvest Handling Workshop Offered

Posted: February 8, 2013
How fresh produce is handled after harvest has a critical impact on its shelf life, quality and safety.  Farmers interested in learning about tools, techniques and philosophies for proper handling of their specialty crops are invited to attend a postharvest handling and food safety workshop hosted by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach on March 8. 

The free workshop will feature Atina Diffley, a former co-owner of Gardens of Eagan and a Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service board member.  Diffley will draw on her years of experience in vegetable production and marketing to provide growers with useful, practical and profit-making guidance on how to achieve the highest quality of sale.

The workshop will be hosted live on the ISU campus in Ames and broadcast to 12 locations throughout Iowa on March 8 from 8:30 a.m. to noon.  Northeast Iowa producers may view the presentation at several locations: the NE Iowa Dairy Foundation Center in Calmar, or the ISU Extension offices in Buchanan or Dubuque counties.

Each grower will receive a free copy of the third edition of the Wholesale Success: A Farmers Guide to Food Safety, Postharvest Handling, Packing and Selling Produce manual, edited by President Jim Slama and farmer Atina Diffley. The recently revised, 312 page book is the definitive training source on selling into wholesale markets. It includes topics such as: Calculating Return on Investment; Cleaning, Drying, and Curing Produce; Traceability; Packing Shed Design; and Maintaining the Cold Chain.

Wholesale Success builds the capacity of farmers to meet the burgeoning demand for locally/regionally grown fruits and vegetables. Adopting best practices in food safety, postharvest handling, packing, and business management will help farmers be more efficient and profitable. It will also give buyers an incentive to increase their purchases of locally grown food.

Registration is required.  Click here to register or call Teresa Wiemerslage, ISU Extension at 563-794-0599 to reserve a spot and book.
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View the Iowa Food and Fitness Calendar