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Iowa State University Extension

January 2009 -- From Jack Payne

Cartoon from

The Dog Days of Winter

Nostalgia is an inevitable component of the ritual of welcoming in a New Year. It’s sort of a cultural molting, performed as part of an annual process of renewal. We long for the good old days, while at the same time, we hope for better ones ahead. 

My old-year shedding procedure takes the form of longing for my good old dogs — the ones who have loved me unconditionally, hunted the frozen marshes in near dark with me and sat at my feet, hanging on my every gesture. Unlike the glossing over of the virtues of by-gone times and friends, these long-gone companions actually were every bit as wonderful as I remember them, maybe even better. 

Ben, a black Lab, saw me through grad school, the births of my sons and well into my professional career before leaving me when he was 17. He lived to hunt and his loyalty was unwavering. Chip, a yellow Lab, passed last year. He always was eager to please me and settled for far too little time with me.

So as I toast to you all and wish you a Happy New Year, I also wish you the incomparable companionship of a good dog. Everyone deserves at least one.


Iowans think -- and talk -- about the bioeconomy

A bioeconomy community conversation

Put 10 or so Iowans in a room to talk about the bioeconomy and what do you get? Thoughtful and thought provoking dialogue about the opportunities and challenges associated with food security, feed production, fuel prices and growth in the renewable fuels industry. That’s what happened around the state in November and early December as Iowans came together for ISU Extension’s Bioeconomy Community Conversations II: Food, Feed and Fuel.

For example, in Logan the group started talking at 7 p.m., expecting to finish in 90 minutes, said Clint McDonald, ISU Extension education director for Harrison County. “At 8:30 we had only covered two topics and I started to close things down, but the group wanted to stay. We ended the formal part of the meeting around 9:30, but they were still here at 10 p.m. talking among themselves.” 

The Harrison County group thought the bioeconomy was healthy for Iowa, McDonald said. “They believe that we need to get the word out about the renewable aspects of biofuels, and that we can have it all -- food, feed and fuel -- without increased food prices for consumers.”

In Ida County much of the discussion focused on the factors influencing food costs and the effects of those costs on families, said ISU Extension director Kathy Schmidt. The discussion also touched on energy costs facing low-income families, who likely are dealing with older, less energy efficient homes and less fuel-efficient vehicles.

Winnebago and Hancock County residents met together, said Jim Hill, ISU Extension education director for Hancock County. They thought ISU Extension should continue to educate consumers on making healthy food choices and supporting locally grown foods. They also saw the need for education on conservation — from driving less to recycling waste and consuming less-processed foods.

As of mid-December, 91 counties reported that more than 700 Iowans participated in the conversations, said Corry Bregendahl, an assistant scientist with the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development at ISU. She will be analyzing the data from all the conversations to determine the prominent issues.

“The analysis will help us see the bigger picture with more clarity so we can better understand the breadth and depth of the concerns, hopes and expectations citizens have about the bioeconomy and its impact on Iowa’s food, families and agriculture,” Bregendahl said.

Iowa land value upward trends may be slowing, survey says

Iowa Land Value Survey and Mike Duffy

The average value of an acre of farmland in Iowa reached $4,468 in 2008, continuing to increase for the ninth year in a row, according to an annual survey conducted by ISU Extension. Mike Duffy, ISU Extension farm economist who conducts the survey, said the indicators toward the end of 2008 imply the upward trend may be slowing as the national economy battles recessionary pressures. Visit the Iowa Land Value Survey Web site to watch a video of the Dec. 16 news conference announcing the results.

Iowans: Take the challenge to live healthy

Live Healthy Iowa

Like a New Year’s resolution, going on a diet may seem like a good idea, but without a long-term commitment -- in this case, to better health -- the results likely won’t last. To make sure the commitment is up front and center, the annual challenge known for seven years as Lighten Up Iowa has become Live Healthy Iowa for 2009. The new name better reflects what the program is all about, said Ruth Litchfield, an ISU Extension nutrition specialist.

Often people thought that the purpose of Lighten Up Iowa was merely weight loss. However, Litchfield said, “What we’re all about is healthier living through good nutrition, physical activity and emotional wellness. We want everyone in Iowa to live healthy.”

The Live Healthy Iowa 100 Day Challenge is a team-based weight loss and physical activity program, Litchfield said. Adult team members help each other begin to form healthy habits through physical activity and improved nutrition.

Regardless of the name, since the program began in 2002, more than 74,000 Iowans have participated, have become more active and have lost more than 153 tons of weight, according to Live Healthy Iowa statistics.

“Live Healthy Iowa encourages you to set realistic goals and make informed decisions about your health,” Litchfield said. “We’re challenging all Iowans to get on a team and make those changes.”

Teams don’t have to work out at a gym, though that’s certainly one way to boost physical activity.

“Walking is a great physical activity. Cleaning the house counts as physical activity. There also are the new Wii systems — Wii Fit has some yoga, strengthening, conditioning and aerobic activities. These count as physical activity for the Live Healthy Iowa 100 Day Challenge,” she said.

Iowa youth may participate in Live Healthy Iowa Kids, Litchfield said. For more information or to register a youth or adult team, visit the Live Healthy Iowa Web site.

4-H’ers become future scientists with robots and FIRST LEGO League

FIRST LEGO League kids

Maybe it’s the mascots and research presentations that make the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) unique. Or maybe it’s the competing 4H’er-built robots. In any case, says ISU Extension program specialist Holly Bignall, “If you’re interested in robots or programming, if you just want to work with a team or if you want to help in the community, you can find a niche.” And you just might help create a future scientist.

The international program involves more than 100,200 kids worldwide and engages them in problem solving, teamwork and learning through competition. In September a challenge is released. Teams of 9- to 14-year-olds begin building their robots, programming their missions and researching topics related to the theme. In January, the teams compete against each other at the state level and are judged on teamwork, the robotic missions, a presentation of their research project and an interview about their robot’s technical design.

In Iowa, interest has increased dramatically. Last year FLL hosted a 70-team tournament and had 21 teams on the waiting list. This year, with the theme of “Climate Connections,” 145 teams competed at six regional competitions, with 72 advancing to the state competition on the ISU campus Jan. 17. Included in the mix are an increasing number of 4-H groups and clubs who have found support from ISU Extension, parents, community members and businesses who see the benefits FLL offers.

“Kids are used to seeing the winning steer, the winning rabbit or the restored rocker or tractor, but this is a whole different interaction, and it’s exciting,” said 4-H youth development field specialist David Seilstad, who is working with three teams from Harrison County. “They are learning life skills, teamwork, communication, citizenship and leadership, which are all tied in to what we have to do to compete in FLL, just like 4-H.”

Bignall sees FLL as an opportunity to pursue the new 4-H science, engineering and technology (SET) mission mandate. Unveiled in summer 2008, 4-H SET’s goal is to increase youth interest in these growing fields using the slogan, “One Million New Scientists. One Million New Ideas.”

Added Seilstad, “When kids come away on fire and see themselves as more capable and excited about what they can learn, we call it a very successful day.”

Farm incubator connects immigrant farmers and local food system

Produce in farmers' market

Eighty acres of Marshall County land soon will become mini farms, where new Latino immigrants as well as long-time residents will raise organic fruits and vegetables side by side and row by row. ISU Extension in Marshall County and Iowa Valley Community College at Marshalltown are recruiting growers for this new farm incubator program that begins in January, with actual crop production during the 2009 season.

These local partners, with the help of ISU Extension researchers and grants through the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Prairie Rivers Resource Conservation and Development, are simultaneously developing the farm incubator program and associated immigrant farmer training, and a multicultural local/regional food system.

“We believe this program will appeal to Latinos who were involved in farming in their country of origin, as well as locals who want to expand their farmers’ market sized business to the next level,” said Angie Nelson, ISU Extension education director for Marshall County. “Research supports the belief that a multicultural local food and marketing system brings opportunity to a community.”

Nelson cites ISU research conducted by Hannah Lewis, program coordinator, under the guidance of Jan Flora, ISU Extension community sociologist, that indicates Latino farmers have a strong interest in returning to farming, but they don’t know how to access the land. The Marshalltown incubator addresses this issue by providing land (owned by the community college) that the farmers will rent, along with training and experiences in diversified small scale agriculture and Iowa production techniques.

The incubator partners also will be working with local businesses to source their food locally to develop the multicultural local food and marketing system.

“When produce is used locally, social capital as well as economic capital grows -- benefiting the community in multiple ways,” Flora said. “The incubator and training being developed in Marshalltown has the potential to be replicated in many Iowa communities. Our partnership with Prairie Rivers RC&D opens up opportunities to establish a regional food system, which can have tremendous implications economically.”

For more information contact Nelson,, or Flora,

Iowa State receives community engagement classification from Carnegie Foundation

Iowa State University

Engagement announcements often fall around the holidays, and Iowa State University received a big "yes" just in time for Christmas. On Dec. 18, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced that Iowa State is one of 119 institutions that have received the foundation’s community engagement classification.

In Carnegie terms, community engagement describes the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities — local, regional, state, national and global. The collaboration benefits the institution and the community as they exchange knowledge and resources as reciprocal partners. Institutions that are engaged with their communities have aligned their mission, marketing, leadership, traditions, recognitions, budgetary support, infrastructure, faculty development and strategic plans.

ISU Associate Provost for Academic Programs David K. Holger said the community engagement classification is part of a new effort by the foundation to set criteria that could be met by research universities, liberal arts colleges and community colleges. Institutions that seek to receive the designation must document their efforts to engage communities.

Institutions were to describe teaching, learning and scholarly activities that engage faculty, students and the community; address community-identified needs; deepen students’ civic and academic learn¬ing; enhance the wellbeing of the community; and enrich the scholarship of the institution. They also needed to address how they provide institutional resources for community use in ways that benefited both the campus and the community. In addition, they had to explain how their collaborations and faculty scholarship allow for discovering and applying knowledge, information and resources.

“The submission that resulted in our selection was a collaborative effort involving many faculty and staff members from across campus, including ISU Extension. Their collective contributions made this successful new recognition possible,” Holger said.

For more information, visit the Carnegie Foundation Web site.

Extension’s energy tip: Audit your home office for energy savings

audit your home office for energy savings

Working from home is becoming increasingly popular, but office equipment can run up the electricity bills. Look for ENERGY STAR computers, copiers, printers and fax machines when purchasing new equipment. ENERGY STAR products use about half the electricity of standard equipment. Turn off machines when not in use and make sure power management features are activated. Consider buying a laptop for your next computer upgrade; they use much less energy than desktop computers. Check out Home Office and Home Electronics for more tips. This tip is brought to you by the U.S. Department of Energy and ISU Extension.