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Interview with Postville Food Service Director, Laurie Smith

Posted: March 28, 2012
Recently, Elizabeth Makarewicz, the FFI Resource Contact, sat down with Postville food service director Laurie Smith to gain insight on what it's like to feed a school district of 550 students.  In her first year as director, Laurie has brought some positive changes to Postville's school lunch and breakfast.  With a focus on ordering fresh and local produce as much as possible, Laurie is taking the right steps to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for Postville students.

RC: What are your job responsibilities?
LS: I oversee the kitchen staff and order all the food.  I help prepare the food as well, do a lot of paperwork, and market the fresh fruit and vegetable program.  It is also my responsibility to oversee special functions like chili suppers, or drama dinners.  I am also the school wellness team chair.  It's a nice blend of paperwork, office management/prepping and cooking!

RC: What's the most rewarding part of your work?
LS: Kids, especially, but when teachers or faculty say "Oh, lunch was really good!", Nice changes!", and "The jicama was awesome!"  I hear a lot of comments from kids when something different comes along and they like it!

RC: What's the biggest challenge?
LS: Calculating to make sure we have enough food.  One day for our Christmas meal, 2nd grade also had a manners meal so they had their parents come too.  Not all of the parents signed up ahead of time, but I needed to plan ahead.  We ended up having enough food, but it was stressful!  Also, I try to use fresh or frozen over canned stuff, but sometimes I have to compromise.  I try to keep an open mind and use my good communication skills!

RC: Do you have a favorite dish to serve/make at school?  
LS: My favorite might not be what the kids like!  This year I've tried turkey dressing sandwiches, and a couple new casseroles, but kids just aren't into casseroles.  I do like coming up with different salads for the salad bar, like Texas caviar and using different fresh fruits and vegetables.

RC: You've used a lot of local foods this school year (great job!), what are the benefits?
LS: I feel bad because nothing's in season right now!  I order all our local food from GROWNLocally.  At the beginning of the year, I wrote all the produce and vegetables that I could possibly use, and gave a price, and [the distributor] had to meet me at that price.  I sent it to GROWN Locally, Hawkeye, and Jovilette farms.  That farm visit I did with GROWN Locally really pulled things together for me!  These extra things I do make my job easier.  And now everyone knows me!  I felt like everywhere I went, people say, oh, I've heard about you! That was very inviting.  I really enjoy meeting all these people.

RC: Do you work with the school gardeners here in Postville?
LS: Yes!  They bring in their list, and I use whatever they bring me!  It's a little extra work, but it is good.  And I always put a little note card out saying it's from the garden.  They did ask me what I would like.  I asked for more Chinese cabbage, since they'd had me sample that before and I liked it.

RC: What are some things that would make your job easier?
LS: Space!  I am getting another cooler, so that'll be nice.  Staff-wise, I'm good.  Everybody really helps each other.  Education is always accepted, for constant learning.  I do lots of webinars, and take advantage of any opportunity that comes along, even when it's not required. Also, new ideas and recipes!  I try to mix things up.

RC: You've done a lot with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, and trying new foods in the cafeteria...are students receptive to trying new things?  
LS: For testing week, we're doing it every day to get them ready for their test!  They don't really like kohlrabi (some do, and some don't), but they really liked the rainbow carrots!  Other favorites include cucumbers, clementines, and turnips.

RC: Wow!  Turnips.  That's a surprise.  Do you have advice for encouraging students to try new foods?
LS: Even though you don't get it at home, try it!  You might like it. Tell your family that you like it.  Live a little!  Healthy food makes you feel better.  If students don't like it, try serving it in a different way.

RC: Why is good nutrition important, in your opinion?
LS: It makes your brain think more easily, and you're more awake, and sharp in life!

Photo:  Laurie Smith (left) prepares tomatoes for ratatouille.

Tag: schoolwellness
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Movement for the Classroom: Chair Yoga

Posted: March 28, 2012
Reflections from Sonja Arneson-Ecklund, FFI AmeriCrops

The "Whole Wellness: Whole Curriculum" teacher workshop was all about getting teachers to integrate wellness into the classroom. My role was to educate teachers about how to use their desk as a foundation for a physical activity routine in the form of chair yoga.  It's part of the growing effort to create places where people have abundant opportunities for physical activity in the places where they live, learn, work, and play.

Chair yoga is beneficial for teachers to practice during their long stretches of desk-time and for students, who spend hours sitting in their desks without many opportunities for physical activity breaks. My presentation included chair yoga stretching poses chosen to address  "swayback posture," which develops in teachers because of rocking back and forth on the hips during classroom lectures.  The teachers received a handout about the six poses to practice at work.

Participants in "Whole Wellness: Whole Curriculum" talked about ways yoga could enhance their curriculum. Math teachers suggested using triangle poses and extended side angle poses to illustrate math terms; history teachers suggested using a pyramid pose while studying ancient Egyptians; music teachers talked about using yoga breathing principles during warm-ups; PE teachers suggested using yoga for relaxation or during indoor recess; and art teachers thought they could use the poses to practice human gesture drawing.  Do any of these ideas sound like they will work in your classroom?

Tag: schoolwellness
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Fitness Frenzy at North Winn

Posted: March 28, 2012
Melissa Wicklund and her 4th grade students at North Winneshiek Community School have been working hard to integrate fitness and wellness into their classroom on a daily basis.

"All the 4th grade students wear activity monitors, we take several ‘brain breaks' throughout the day, and the students sit on exercise balls to achieve active learning," Ms. Wicklund says, "This year has been filled with learning opportunities through our new fitness frenzy for both the students and me."

The school received a $1,500 grant from the Northeast Iowa FFI to purchase activity monitors, in part because Ms. Wicklund volunteered to make the program a part of her curriculum.

"It was a great opportunity for me to teach the students about being more active. What I didn't expect was how much it would teach me about my students, my classroom, and myself," Ms. Wicklund reports. Since the beginning of the project, Ms. Wicklund's point of view has changed; "We don't sit for long periods of time anymore - Students are active in my classroom. Whether we're up and moving about doing an activity together or participating in brain breaks [exercise in the middle of a lessons intended to get the students' brains back on task], we are more active on a daily basis than we ever have been before."

Each student wears an activity monitor, a wristwatch tracking physical activity throughout the day. "We encourage movement here at school and at home," Ms. Wicklund explains, "there are no grades associated with the activity diary on their watches, but students do write down their activity so that we can make graphs during math class."

The activity monitors have had an impact upon setting goals during PE class and outside on the playground. But perhaps most importantly, "the activity monitors have made a huge impact on my teaching and the students learning about themselves."

Ms. Wicklund's other big project is to replace all the chairs in her classroom with ball chairs. Ball chairs are stability balls used for exercise and as chairs in offices and schools around the country. "Our most recent project is called ‘Keep Students on the Ball.' We're working on raising the funds to allow all of my students to sit on an exercise ball [during class] to activate their learning. Research says that when students are sitting on exercise balls, their brains are more engaged because they're able to put their brain to work while their body is also physically active."

The work Ms. Wicklund is doing to make her classroom an active place is part of the efforts of the Northeast Iowa FFI, and personal commitment on Ms. Wicklund's part to make her classroom a healthy place.

Tag: schoolwellness
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Iowa to launch new fat-busting program in 6 counties

Posted: March 20, 2012
Iowa has been chosen to be part of a national effort to fight obesity. Catherine Lillehoj is a research analyst with the Iowa Department of Public Health.

"Iowa is part of a national initiative that is being funded through the Healthy Weight Collaborative, which is a virtual collaborative that has formed around the entire United States," Lillehoj explains.

The state has chosen one section of the state for the focus of the program.

"We are working with the six counties that are in the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, and through the virtual team collaborative we will design a project, that we will be working on," Lillehoj says.

She says they will be working with partners at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Lillehoj says the chose the six northeast Iowa counties because of the work already underway with the food and fitness initiative there.

"And also northeast Iowa is a fairly rural area, and we know that in more rural areas of the state that opportunities to access physical activity and healthy nutrition may not be as abundant as more urban areas," Lillehoj says.

There is no money that comes with joining the national effort. But Lillehoj says there are plenty of virtual resources available.

"For example, web-based, there's webinars that we have, phone conferences and we will also be developing some on-line resources. For example, Facebook pages or perhaps Twitter," Lillehoj says.

She says making it all virtual saves a lot of resources, especially for those areas farther out in the state.

The six counties are: Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard, Winneshiek.

Lillehoj says many of the towns have fewer than 300 residents and struggle with rural isolation. The project will run through February 2013.

For more information, visit:

Source: Dar Danielson, 3/19/12,

Tag: grantsrcd commengagement
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Iowa Local Food Summit to Spark Discussion on April 3

Posted: March 16, 2012
Creating a vibrant food system in Iowa requires diverse voices and strong partnerships. The Local Food and Farm Program team invites you to contribute to a lively discussion at the Iowa Local Food Summit on Tuesday, April 3.  The event will take place at the Scheman Building at Iowa State University from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A local foods dinner will follow at 6 p.m.
The legislature created the Local Food and Farm Program in 2011 to implement recommendations outlined in the Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan, which was developed by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Craig Chase, coordinator of the Leopold Center's Marketing and Food Systems Initiative, leads the six-member team.
Chase says, "The information for the original report that initiated the Local Food and Farm Program was the result of several meetings made up of over 1,000 of Iowa agriculture's best and brightest minds.  It's our hope to again bring together a diverse mix of people concerned about and interested in creating a vibrant, sustainable local food system."  
During the first six months of funding the team identified the challenges to implementing the plan's 29 recommendations. They need the help of producers, distributors, educators, policymakers, consumers and other members of the local food economy to determine the next steps for success.
Afternoon workshops will center on six focus areas: 1) business development and financial assistance, 2) food processing, 3) food safety, 4) beginning, transitioning and minority farmers, 5) assessing programs, and 6) local food incentives.
Chase said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has been invited to speak at the beginning of the day about the burgeoning local food economy.  "Secretary Northey has been a strong proponent of farmers markets and Farm to School and we look forward to having him attend," Chase said.
The keynote speaker, David Dahlquist, is a nationally recognized public artist and teacher. Since 1988 he has completed more than 50 large-scale public commissions across the country. He will speak about creating a local sense of place that embraces food, history and culture.
Register online, or download the mail-in registration form, at The regular fee is $20 and the student fee is $15 if you register before March 30. There is an additional $25 charge to attend the local foods dinner.
The event sponsors include the Leopold Center, ISU Extension and Outreach, ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Tag: foodsystems
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Gather Your Team and Register! School Wellness Team Retreat, March 21, 2012

Posted: March 2, 2012
School Wellness Teams in northeast Iowa are invited to a regional retreat hosted by the Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI) at Luther College on March 21.

This retreat will celebrate the partnership between the FFI and our many school communities.  Together, we're working to shift school culture to embrace wellness and grow healthy kids!  

The day will start with a special keynote on Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative given by Rebecca Wampler, Director of Health Care Sustainability at Wellmark Foundation.   Breakout sessions will focus on team building, best practices and resources for schools.  A family-style lunch featuring local foods will be served at Peace Dining Room in the Dahl Centennial Union.   The meal will illustrate how to feed a local, healthy meal to a family for under $10. 

Learn about the 2012-2013 Food & Fitness Action Plan, as well as the vast number of accumulating resources to help you accomplish your school wellness goals. Download the agenda. This workshop is designed for teams— we strongly recommend diverse representation of your school wellness team including a food service director, classroom teacher, parent, administrator, community member, P.E./health teacher, youth coach, and youth representatives.

Registration will start at 8:30 am at the concourse in Valders Hall on North campus and the day will conclude by 2:45 pm.  

Registration is free but conference space is limited so early registrations are encouraged! The final deadline is Thursday, March 15.  Click here to register or contact the Winneshiek County ISU Extension and Outreach Office at 563-382-2949.

(Maximum registration per school is 10. A $300 stipend is available to offset travel and substitute costs for schools that send teams with these members: at least 5 team members including 2 students, 2 paid staff and 1 administrator).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Tag: schoolwellness
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POSITION OPENING: Safe Routes to School Liaison

Posted: March 1, 2012
FULL-TIME POSITION AVAILABLE with Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC) as Safe Routes to School Liaison for Northeast Iowa.  This position runs through July 31, 2013 in collaboration with the Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative (FFI).  The Liaison will work with NE Iowa schools and communities to facilitate activities that promote safe, walkable and bikable communities; and increase the opportunities for physical activity and play across the region.  The Liaison will also work with the FFI Active Living Work Group, the FFI School Outreach team, area School Wellness Teams and UERPC's Planning Team to create active transportation and living activities at school possible through practices and policies. Please visit for a full job description and application.  Send cover letter, application, current resume and three references to:  Karla Organist, Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, 325 Washington Street, Suite A, Decorah, IA  52101 or by email to  Position is open until filled.  UERPC is an EOE/AA employer/program.

Tag: activeliving
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FoodCorps Opens Applications for its Next Class of School Food Changemakers

Posted: February 27, 2012
FoodCorps, a national organization that addresses childhood obesity and food insecurity in underserved communities, opens applications for its second annual class of service members.  The selected emerging leaders will dedicate one year of full-time public service in school food systems – expanding hands-on nutrition education programs, building and tending school gardens, and sourcing fresh, healthy, local food for school cafeterias.

The first class of service members have already made a difference in their local schools.  The Iowa service members have reached thousands of kids with nutrition education, servings of locally grown foods such as apples, carrots and kale, and have catalyzed the start up and revitalization of many educational school gardens.  There are currently two positions in Des Moines and two positions in northeast Iowa.

In its first year FoodCorps gained national attention by attracting 1,229 applicants for just 50 positions, and by providing an innovative, grassroots, scalable approach to solving our national obesity epidemic. Since 1980, the percentage of American children who are overweight or obese has doubled. With one in four U.S. children struggling with hunger and one in three obese or overweight, FoodCorps addresses the root cause of both: access to healthy food.

FoodCorps seeks up to 100 men and women with a passion for serving their country as AmeriCorps service members by building healthy communities in 12 states around the country.  Hannah Lewis, Iowa Program Director, is hoping to expand from four to seven positions in Iowa for the next year.

Applications are due March 25th. Emerging leaders interested in getting more information should go to

FoodCorps is a national service organization that seeks to address childhood obesity by increasing vulnerable children's knowledge of, engagement with, and access to healthy food. Service members build and tend school gardens, conduct nutrition education, and facilitate Farm to School programming that brings healthy, affordable local food into public schools. The program also trains a cadre of leaders for careers in food and agriculture.

Tag: schoolwellness foodsystems
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West Central Hosts Rec Nights and Foods Club

Posted: February 19th, 2012
By Leah Chapman, FoodCorps

To implement new wellness initiatives, West Central Community School received $4,000 from the Fuel Up To Play 60 (FUTP 60) program. 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 was launched by National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with United States Department of Agriculture. The program, in more than 60,000 schools throughout the country, provides youth with concrete opportunities to improve healthy eating and physical activity.

West Central Community School will start an afterschool "Local Foods Club" in which K-6th grade students will sample and learn how to prepare fruits, vegetables, homemade whole grain breads, smoothies and other nutritious foods. The club will focus specifically on local foods and will bring farmers from Fayette County to the club to connect students to local food and agriculture.

Food Service Director, Wilma Miller, from West Central also received funds to purchase new kitchen equipment including cutting boards, a lettuce cutter and an apple slicer. This new equipment will help West Central process and serve more whole fruits and vegetables throughout the school year. 

Each month, West Central will use FUTP 60 funds to hold "recreation nights" in which students and family members will enjoy healthy snacks and opportunities for physical activity. The school will purchase two Wii exercise bundles and will hold dodge ball tournaments and limbo competitions. The first recreation night was held on January 16th, 2012. Students and staff are already busy planning February's recreation night.

Tag: schoolwellness

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Nutrition Lessons in New Hampton

Posted: February 19, 2012
By Melanie Stewart, FFI AmeriCorps

New Hampton Elementary School students are learning about nutrition.  Lessons were tailored to be informational and engaging for each grade level.

First grade students learned the importance of eating a balanced diet and being physically active through an introduction to MyPlate. Students picked activity cards with different food items, named which food group it belonged to, did the corresponding activity, such as hopping on one foot or dancing.

Second grade classes "tasted a rainbow" of fruits and vegetables after learning how eating different colors helps our bodies. Students made a rainbow of fruits and veggies to sample. One student said, "I've never had a yellow pepper before, but I liked it!"

Third graders sampled brownies baked with black beans. All students said they liked them before learning what the secret ingredient was, and almost all said they would try them again. After the taste test, students learned the importance of balance, variety, and moderation by reading Shel Silverstein poem's "Food?"

Fourth grade science classes learned the difference between whole grains and not-whole grains ("refined grains") by reading food labels and packaging. There were many great questions such as "what does ‘organic' mean?" and "what is the difference between ‘dietary fiber' and ‘insoluble fiber'?"

Tag: schoolwellness
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