WAUKON, Iowa — The W. K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded $900,000 to the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative to be used in the next four years. The award 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.
With the additional support, the initiative will focus on long-term sustainability for the citizens in Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties.
Guided by a regional leadership council of local community members, FFI is grounded and supported by the staff of four core partner organizations: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Luther College, Northeast Iowa Community College and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission. These organizations share a common vision for the region — to provide access to healthy, locally grown food with abundant opportunities for physical activity and play every day.
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 percent 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.”
Individual behavior change is difficult without the support and influence of healthy environments in which to live, work and play. Because schools 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 a culture that promotes and sustains healthy habits.
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.
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,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, leader for the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition and ISU Extension and Outreach program coordinator.
In 2011, 25 food producers reported more than $3.5 million in local food sales. Local schools have purchased more than $14,400 from local farmers through farm to school efforts. More locally grown foods can be found on grocery stores shelves.
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 model healthy habits for their peers and younger children.
The youth outreach component has become a part of the Iowa 4-H program, said Lynette Houser, ISU Extension regional youth coordinator. More than 240 youth were members of their school-based FFI 4-H teams in 2012.