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Valley Elementary to Plant School Garden This Spring

Posted: April 28, 2012
Members of the Valley Community School Wellness Team and Parents in Education (PIE) organization commenced planning of a school vegetable garden to be planted early this April.  The main garden bed will be installed in the courtyard behind the elementary building next to the main playground.

Produce from the garden will be used by the Valley cafeteria, in classrooms for taste-testings and nutrition lessons, and for special events.  An outdoor classroom space will allow teachers to incorporate the garden into lessons.

Students in grades K-12 will assist in the planting, maintenance, and harvesting of the garden.  Garden planners are asking for volunteers to participate in an "adopt-a-garden" program, in which students may sign-up with their families to care for the garden for a week out of the summer.

All garden volunteers will have the opportunity to work side-by-side with Northeast Iowa FFI Resource Contact, Elizabeth Makarewicz, to learn basic garden maintenance skills and participate in an optional cooking class.  An additional garden orientation will be held during a garden kick-off party to be scheduled near the end of this school year.

This garden initiative is a part of Valley's 2011-2012 School Wellness Action Plan, which catalogs workshops and wellness projects supported by the Northeast Iowa FFI.  Many of these opportunities include activities of two national programs Farm to School and Safe Routes to School.

Efforts to create a culture of wellness have already started in Valley.  In conjunction with the school's wellness team, Valley has hosted several community wellness forums and a bicycle and walking safety workshop for students in grades K-6, encouraged healthier snacks in the elementary, initiated an elementary mileage club called "Tiger Tracks", started bi-weekly nutrition lessons in first and second grade classrooms, and seen an increase of local, freshly prepared foods in its school cafeteria, among other projects.

For more information about Valley's garden project, to volunteer your time, or to donate garden supplies, please contact FFI Resource Contact Elizabeth Makarewicz at

Tag: schoolwellness
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Starmont After School Club Students Learn a Lesson on Seasonality

Posted: April 28, 2012
Students at Starmont's After-School Club recently asked the question, "Why can't we grow pineapples in Iowa?" To answer that question, and also to prepare students for the planting of a new school garden, Resource Contact Elizabeth Makarewicz visited these inquisitors.

To start out the lesson, Makarewicz had each student color his or her favorite vegetable and fruit on separate sheets of paper.  Students then "planted" each of their drawings in an imaginary garden plot.  As each student laid a fruit or vegetable down, students discussed whether or not that plant would grow well in Iowa.

Unlikely candidates: pineapple, kiwi, and bananas.  As balmy as March has been this year, students agreed these tropical fruits weren't likely to do well without some added heat and moisture. And what were students' favorite locally grown foods?  Hands-down: corn and watermelon.

Tag: schoolwellness
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USDA Unveils New Food Hub Guide

Posted: April 26, 2012
On Friday, April 20th, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan introduced the USDA's first Regional Food Hub Resource Guide. The Regional Food Hub Resource Guide is part of USDA's commitment to expand market opportunities for local and regional food systems. The guide aims to connect and support small- to medium-sized producers nationwide and help strengthen their operations from the ground up.
"The new guide is the most comprehensive handbook on food hubs ever available," said Merrigan. "Now farmers, buyers, researchers, consumers or anyone interested in creating a food hub in their community can tap into a single resource to find the information that they need."
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Wings Park Video is a State Winner!

Posted: April 20, 2012
Wings Park Elementary in Oelwein has been declared the Iowa winner of the cooking show challenge sponsored by Fuel Up to Play 60. The Cooking Show Challenge encouraged students to create a recipe, hold a taste test, or complete a healthy eating play from the Fuel Up to Play 60 playbook and upload a video, which demonstrated how they enacted the Challenge at their school.

The school's video, "Minute to Make It," featured Wings Park students with creative food-themed names whipping up a fun, nutritious snack called "Cukes" hollowed out cucumbers filled with cottage cheese and topped with baby carrots and dried cranberries. Click here to watch the video.


Tag: youthstory

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Little Switzerland FFA Chapter at WHS receives $2,500 grant for school greenhouse

Posted: April 11, 2012
A former member of the Little Switzerland FFA Chapter at Waukon High School has given back to the chapter through the America's Farmers Grow Communities program sponsored by the Monsanto Fund to support local farming communities. Rob Elliott, Seed Account Manager for Corn States LLC, a Monsanto Company, distributed a $2,500 check to chapter and school representatives at an April 4 presentation event at Waukon High School.

Melissa and Randy Wedo of rural Monona were selected as the Allamakee County winner in the program, which allows farmers to register to win $2,500 for their favorite community non-profit organization, such as FFA, 4-H, schools, fire departments and other civic groups. One winner was selected in each of 1,245 eligible counties in 39 states throughout the country.

Melissa Wedo is the former Melissa Ehrhardt and a 2005 graduate of Waukon High School. During her high school career she held numerous leadership positions within the Little Switzerland FFA Chapter and explained her family's reasoning for designating the chapter as its America's Farmers Grow Communities benefactor.

"FFA will have a large impact on you," she shared with the current FFA members in attendance at the check presentation. "I was very active in FFA, and I know I wouldn't be in the position I am in today if I had not gotten involved with FFA. I'm happy to be able to give something back to a program that gave so much to me."

Little Switzerland FFA Advisor and Waukon High School agriculture instructor Jessica O'Connor explained that the funds will be used to help fund construction of an additional greenhouse for use by the FFA chapter. "We are hoping to use the new greenhouse to add things like aquaculture and hydroponics to expand on our current curriculum," she said.

Waukon High School Principal Dan Diercks expressed his appreciation on behalf of the school's administration, stating that he was very impressed with the presentation the school's FFA students gave in regard to the new greenhouse and its additional curriculum possibilities. He said the price tag on a new greenhouse lies between $30,000 and $60,000, and that the donated Monsanto funds "really spearheaded this second greenhouse".

Nearly 60,000 farmers participated in the second annual Grow Communities program this past fall, with the Monsanto Fund investing more than $3.1 million in local communities. For more information and to see a full list of winners, visit

Tag: foodsystems
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NIFF Coalition seeks producers and consumers to complete survey

Posted: April 11, 2012
Luther College, in collaboration with the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition, Resource Conservation and Development, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, is administering a survey throughout the area that will bridge the consumer-producer gap in the local food system and provide an orientation for future growing opportunities.

Luther encourages area producers and consumers in Winneshiek, Allamakee, Howard, Clayton, Chickasaw and Fayette counties to complete the survey at:

Producers and buyers can expect to receive a paper version in the mail sometime this spring and are encouraged to complete the short survey and return it in the enclosed envelope.

The producer and consumer inventory work is made possible by a statewide grant through the Rural Communities Development Initiative of Iowa. Purposes of the grant include building a capacity around local food in the region, facilitating stakeholder meetings, establishing email distribution networks, developing a regional local food system expansion plan and creating a fund-raising plan to support expansion.

Maren Stumme-Diers, sustainable food educator at Luther, is serving as the local foods coordinator for the grant and is taking the lead in collecting information from buyers and producers.

Tag: foodsystems
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New Luther program will encourage participation in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)

Posted: April 11, 2012
Luther's Wellness and Sustainability programs are collaborating to start a program that will reimburse faculty and staff who take part in community supported agriculture programs.

Community Support Agriculture is a way for consumers to purchase local, seasonal food direct from the producer. Consumers pay an up-front cost and in exchange receive weekly or biweekly boxes of produce for the entire summer.

Luther has pledged to reimburse all faculty and staff who support a CSA, take two cooking classes and become part of two book groups offered at Luther this summer that support a holistic approach to food education.

This program promotes and expands Luther's connection with Northeast Iowa local food producers. Through extended connections on campus the college hopes to see similar results in the regional community.

Luther is working with three local farms this season: Patchwork Green Farm, Annie's Gardens and Greens and G It's Fresh Organic.

Source:, Apr 4, 2012

Tag: foodsystem
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Cheers to a More Healthful North Fayette

Posted: April 2, 2012
A recent taste test at North Fayette High School was a showcase in proving that eating healthful foods can actually be fun and just plain lip-smacking good.

The students and staff were treated last week to a sampling of smoothies that would soon be listed on the school's breakfast menu. Understandably, the tasty drinks were an overwhelming success.

At the same time, when informed of some of her flavor combinations, food service director Carol Stanbrough was greeted with a mixture of raised eyebrows and uneasy smiles.

Leah Chapman, a Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness representative, stood alongside and recorded the recipes created by Stanbrough.

While the majority of staff and students voiced their flavorful approval for a traditional strawberry and banana smoothie, Chapman noted that her personal favorite, and that of many others, was the strawberry, cherry, and spinach drink!

"It was sweet and delicious. You couldn't even tell that Carol had added spinach into the mix," said Chapman, while noting that the strawberry and banana mixture also included a large carrot. Other smoothie combinations/ingredients included blueberries, broccoli, kiwi, and pineapple.

Stanbrough reported that at this time the smoothie breakfast menu will only be offered at the high school, but elementary and middle school students will have the  opportunity to take the taste test at a later date.

To implement the smoothie bar and other new wellness initiatives, North Fayette recently received $3,190 from the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. Chapman helped coordinate the local grant proposal.

Fuel Up to Play 60 encourages the availability and consumption of nutrient-rich foods, along with at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The program launched by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture. The nationwide program provides youth with improve healthful eating and physical activity.

Leading healthful discussions
In addition to the newly acquired smoothie mixer, North Fayette High School has implemented a "Morning Mile (Walking) Club" and plans to purchase club T-shirts, dumbbells, water bottles and posters to help increase student, sta# and community member participation.

The Morning Mile Club walks daily Monday through Friday from 7:15 a.m. to 8 a.m. All community members are welcome to walk with students and staff.

In only its second full year working with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative (FFI), North Fayette is being credited as one of the most active members in the program.

"North Fayette has implemented various new wellness initiatives this year, including the Morning Mile Club, a cross-age teaching program focused on nutrition education, a garden pen pals program, and the installation of new school gardens," said Chapman.

"North Fayette administration is very supportive of the school district's work with FFI, and teachers have demonstrated readiness for change in terms of incorporating health and wellness into their curriculums," she stressed.

Chapman reported that most recently the 18 members of the Food and Fitness youth team visited the West Union Elementary to teach a 30-minute nutrition lesson to all fourth-graders. The first lesson focused on the enormous amount of sugar found in soda. The students were encouraged to pick a lowercalorie, hydrating drink such as water, 100 percent fruit juice or low-fat milk.

From the elementary level to its graduating seniors, North Fayette is making a continuing effort to provide healthy alternatives to each of its students. But students, beware: Hearing the rave reviews of the unique smoothie combinations, prompted one school board member to tease that this could possibly be an option in further utilizing school lunch leftovers cheese pizza and peaches-- smoothie, anyone?

Source: Mike Van Sickle, Fayette County Union, 2/29/12

Tag: schoolwellness
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Meet Your Farmer: Country View Dairy seeking to cultivate local yogurt market

Posted: April 2, 2012
A rural Fayette County family hope to put a little culture into the diets of Northeast Iowans with a creamy, all-natural yogurt from BST-free dairy cows on their farm.

Available in eight varieties ranging from raspberry to blueberry and lime, the yogurt is processed at Country View Dairy, 15197 230th Street, Hawkeye.

Coming to the area from Mennonite communities in Michigan and Kansas 10 years ago, Dave and Carolee Rapson had dreams for raising their young and growing family in northeast Iowa. They have since grown their farm operation to a herd of 280 cows, milked three times a day. About 20,000 pounds of milk leaves the farm daily.

But in 2009, as prices for raw milk plummeted, the Rapsons decided they needed a way to add more value to the product that has been their lifeblood.

"We knew we couldn't buy more land," says Carolee. Recent sales of ag land near Hawkeye have reached $8,500 an acre and higher. "We'd always been interested in food and even toyed with starting a catering business."

As they considered cheese production, butter-making, ice cream and milk, the Rapsons visited with ISU Extension experts and Hansen Dairy of Hudson, purveyor of fresh milk and other dairy products with retail outlets in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area.

"The Hansens were getting their yogurt from a dairy in Wisconsin," says Carolee, "so we visited that farm."

As weeks passed, Extension officials advised that a yogurt manufacturer was lacking in northeast Iowa. The Rapsons' decision was made. Studies showing consumers' desires to eat healthfully and increased awareness of yogurt's active-culture health benefits were important factors.

"If not for the trend toward an increased popularity of yogurt, we probably wouldn't have had the courage to try this," admits Dave, 44.

Independent yogurt-processing plants located on-site where the cows are milked are few in the Midwest. The Rapsons know of individual yogurt processors in southern Wisconsin, St. Louis, Mo., and Ohio.

At the Rapson farm, 36 cows were isolated from the rest of the herd for yogurt production. They receive no antibiotics or hormones, resulting in an all-natural product. Likewise, Country View uses no preservatives, stabilizers or gelatins.

Carolee, mom to five children ages 4 to 17, had made yogurt in her home kitchen. She understood how live cultures added to milk once it's heated change the molecular structure of milk proteins, resulting in yogurt.

Yet processing yogurt on a large scale seemed overwhelming at first, the Rapsons admit.

"Your temperature ... your time and your culture is everything," Carolee says.

"You don't just get a recipe and get started," added Dave.

Tests have to be routinely conducted on the milk, and wastewater from the production must be properly handled. The company's four employees need to work quickly during production. Once the cultures are added, the crew has two hours to get all the product packaged and into the incubation room.

Country View's gluten-free, natural product is made from low-fat, Grade A milk brought directly into the processing facility through a pipeline from the barn. The milk is run through a separator, with only the low-fat, 1 percent product used for processing.

The Rapsons produce about a pound of yogurt for every pound of milk processed. On average, they make 1,500 pounds of product a week. Dave says he'd like to see the dairy process five or six times that much by getting into more retail outlets.

Four flavors (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry and black cherry) are offered in the 6-oz. cup size, but it's not due to lack of demand.

Carolee explains that a minimum order of individual cups is 60,000 for any one specification/flavor. This factor has been a limitation when Country View decides to make modifications such as offering a new product, a new flavor or if it decides to change an ingredient.

Luther College is Country View's top client, buying 600 to 700 pounds of yogurt weekly, according to the Rapsons. The college offers students a yogurt bar in its food service line, take-and-go parfaits and individual cups.

Wayne Tudor, general manager of food services at Luther, says the private college's relationship with the Rapsons has been outstanding.

"We visited their farm and the dairy before they were in yogurt production. We started talking about how we could use their product," he relates, "because it's exactly what we were looking for."

Tudor says Luther's mission is to serve "real food." In 2011, 20 percent of the college's food purchases were local.

Country View yogurt fits Luther's need first, because it's locally processed and, second, because it's naturally cultured and has no preservatives or thickeners, Tudor says.

"Students absolutely love it. Their reaction has been amazing," he adds. "The flavor is so much more natural, and it's not homogenized so it digests easier."

While the food services manager praised the Rapson family's desire to adapt to the college's needs, he said he did initially question one of their flavor suggestions.

"I told them I didn't think lime would be all that popular," he laughs, "but, I was wrong. It's a favorite flavor!"

Tudor said because Country View supports Luther's mission, the college, in turn, hopes to see the dairy become a sustainable operation.

Dave Rapson says in the first six months of operation, the family has worked to modify its product to meet customer demand and expectation. He hopes that from this point forward, the company will show increased profitability.

Country View yogurt is sold at Quillin's groceries, Oneota Food Co-op in Decorah, Hansen Dairy outlets, and Moore's grocery in West Union. The dairy has initiated the paperwork to get its yogurt on the shelves of Fareway stores.

"We've had requests for a lower-sugar cup and other flavors," says Carolee. The response from consumers has been tremendous as far as taste and creaminess, they say.

A 3-lb. family-size container is also available. Plain, peach, lime, and vanilla are the flavors offered, in addition to the four others available in the individual cup.

The Rapsons say a Greek yogurt, in which the whey is strained off to get a thicker, higher-protein product, is a serious consideration. Their offering would include a "fruit on the bottom'"cup, says Carolee. Luther's Tudor says the Greek yogurt is in high demand and is a product it hopes Country View will also be able to offer.

When constructing the new 40-by-60-foot structure that houses the operation, accommodations were made for the business to serve as a retail outlet in the future. There is also a viewing window through which the family invites customers or schoolchildren to observe the yogurt-making process.

Country View Dairy, LLC is state-certified and -regulated. The Rapsons invite inquiries about their product.

Source:, March 21, 2012

Tag: foodsystems

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New Hampton Teens Host Senator Bartz

Posted: March 28, 2012
The New Hampton FFI 4-H Youth Team hosted Iowa Senator Merlin Bartz on March 9.  

The event started with a tour of the recently completed FFA greenhouse at New Hampton High School. The tour was led by several FFA and FFI members. Bartz learned more about the work being done on the local foods front at New Hampton schools.  Senator Bartz was impressed with the new facility and presented a donation to the chapter to support their work. 

After the greenhouse tour, the FFI team and the Senator went through the lunch line and ate together in the Family Consumer Science classroom. During  lunch students outlined what Food & Fitness means to them, lay out the goals of the Initiative for the Senator, and discuss what can be done at the state level to support this mission.

This event was a great opportunity to showcase the opportunities available for students and schools within the local food system, and to share their program with the senator. 

Tag: youthengagement
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