This article is from the Spring 2007 edition of the Extension Connection newsletter.
From marketing local crops to promoting health and fitness, the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm (NIFF) Coalition is making its mark in northeast Iowa.
Local, state and national organizations have banded together to create the coalition. Iowa State University Extension has been the catalyst as the coalition has developed, finding partners and using research to build on community assets.
The coalition includes Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties. It supports the development and marketing of locally grown agricultural products to enhance the lives of local citizens. The NIFF Coalition is implementing a strategic plan designed to build a stronger local food and farm economy in northeast Iowa.
With the help of ISU Extension and other partners, the coalition is providing an opportunity for existing and new producers to diversify and is exploring the development of regional processing and storage facilities to add value. It’s also working to increase the sale and consumption of locally grown food on a local, regional and national level.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Regional Food System Working Group from Iowa State University have named the NIFF Coalition as their pilot community for local food system development. The coalition and its producers have been awarded funding to cover expansion costs of planting new crops, building greenhouses and expanding processing capabilities of local food cooperatives.
With those projects already started, the coalition is now expanding into another field: local health and fitness. The group is working with ISU Extension to compete for a $500,000 Kellogg Food and Fitness grant. This grant will fund a two-year community planning effort to increase access to local healthy food and promote physical activity and play.
“The driving force behind this new initiative has been Extension’s supportive role in encouraging agriculture and food production in conjunction with healthy lifestyles in our community,” said Ann Mansfield, a coalition member and representative from the Winneshiek Medical Center and Luther College. “Extension really helped make the connection between the economic benefit for local producers and the environmental and health benefits for the community.”
According to Brenda Ranum, ISU Extension education director in Winneshiek County, the health of their community’s youth is their biggest concern and the main focus for the food and fitness initiative. When children from a local elementary school were tested, 16 percent were found to be pre-diabetic and at risk for future chronic heart disease.
“At this rate, these children will be the first generation that may not outlive their parents,” Ranum said. “To fix this problem, we need to pull together as a region, tap into our resources and build on what we do well.”
As community organizations in northeast Iowa push forward in accomplishing their common goals, they also are able to look back at the progress made so far. “With Extension’s help, our communities have bridged a lot of gaps, people’s views have been broadened and our dialog with each other has diversified,” Mansfield said. “Extension has helped to create an organization that people can really see themselves participating in.”
For more information on the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm (NIFF) Coalition, contact Brenda Ranum at (563) 382-2949 or email@example.com.
Laura Sternweis, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-0775, firstname.lastname@example.org