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.