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Iowa State University Extension

November 2008 -- From Jack Payne

Cartoon from

Economy: e-con-o-my; the efficient use of something

When I hear a word being bandied about as much as “economy” is these days, I think that it starts to lose or change its real meaning. For now, economy seems to stand for all that is wrong with the world. It is a moniker for the devaluation of people’s livelihoods, investments and retirement savings. It is a word welded to other words like failing, bad, floundering, weakening, declining and poor. Economy often is found in the same sentence with recession, depression, slump, downturn, collapse and stagflation. 

It’s bad enough that the economy has outstripped almost every other topic of social conversation, but when it starts becoming synonymous with our national and personal identities, I think it’s time to drill down to basics and to find the essence of what makes our country great and what makes us tick. And it’s not the economy.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Community conversations take on food, feed and fuel issues

Bioeconomy Community Conversations II

The bioeconomy is tied to a host of “green” as well as economic development issues and remains one of Iowa State University’s top educational and research priorities. In November ISU Extension is hosting community conversations to help Iowans understand the state’s role in meeting national demands for food, feed and fuel. The conversations continue ISU Extension’s effort to provide a research perspective and stimulate discussions that lead to a better understanding of the facts surrounding the economic, social and environmental ramifications of the bioeconomy.

Counties are offering “Bioeconomy Community Conversations II: Food, Feed and Fuel” Nov. 10-21. The 90-minute conversations are bringing community sectors together to talk about the opportunities and the challenges associated with food security, feed production, fuel prices and the growth in the renewable fuels industry. Research needs, policy issues and educational concerns are fair game for these discussions.

The conversations are a follow-up to similar discussions in spring 2007, when more than 950 Iowans in 96 counties voiced their hopes and concerns about the bioeconomy. Then the participants represented a range of business owners, farmers, county government officials, agency representatives and other community leaders. A similar mix is expected at the November conversations.

In 2007 Iowans called the bioeconomy the “biggest change in agriculture since the plow” and encouraged ISU Extension to stay objective.

“It isn’t Extension’s job to change our opinion about the bioeconomy,” one participant said. “It’s Extension’s job to present data that people can use to form good decisions and opinions.”

For more information about Bioeconomy Community Conversations II: Food, Feed and Fuel, contact your ISU Extension county office.

Extension helps Iowans get the facts about wind energy

wind turbine

Chicago may be the Windy City, but Iowa is a windy state and the country’s third largest producer of wind energy, ranking behind only Texas and California. Iowans want facts about wind as a source of energy and about wind turbines as an investment. That’s why ISU Extension has been sponsoring regional conferences and seminars to get the issues in front of landowners, livestock producers, agribusiness professionals, utility company employees, media representatives, elected officials and others with an interest in this renewable resource.

And Iowans are showing up. For instance, more than 170 landowners came to Hamburg in October to get information to help them make good investment decisions, better understand applications of wind energy in their personal operations and understand local opportunities in the wind energy industry.

“Industrial scale wind farms are relatively new to southwest Iowa,” said Doug Doty, ISU Extension education director for Fremont County. “We have a major wind energy developer looking at this area, and many landowners don’t feel they know enough about the subject to ask good questions. We felt Extension could play a major role in providing unbiased information.”

Wind energy holds great promise, said Roger McEowen, Leonard Dolezal Professor in Agricultural Law at Iowa State University. However, he has been cautioning Iowans about legal issues and signing contracts too quickly.

“The most common shortcomings we see are that these agreements may extend too long into the future, offer inadequate compensation to landowners, bind farmers unilaterally to contract terms and create unequal bargaining power,” McEowen said. He added that landowners should have any proposed agreement evaluated by legal counsel and try to negotiate any unfavorable terms they find. 

Fremont County Supervisor John Whipple said the big turnout in Hamburg showed residents’ uneasiness both with contract terms being offered and the idea of wind turbines in general. “The contracts are long and detailed,” Whipple said. “People are concerned about all the fine print. And, they wonder how it may affect relationships with their neighbors—whether they sign or whether they don’t.”

For more detailed information regarding wind energy generation and accompanying legal issues, visit the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation.

CIRAS-arranged connection results in a slew of pleasant surprises

ISU students at Snap-on Tools

Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) specializes in making connections — and sometimes those connections contain a few unexpectedly pleasant surprises.

During his regular rounds visiting northwest Iowa manufacturers, CIRAS account manager Bob Coacher became acquainted with Snap-on Tools, a company that makes upscale toolboxes for automotive and industrial use at its plant in Algona. That initial contact led plant manager Scott Marienau to inquire how the company could partner with Iowa State to improve its manufacturing process.

“Our facility here is very open to ideas to make our jobs better,” Marienau said. “We have a great attitude in the plant.”

Although Marienau wasn’t sure whether anything concrete would come from his request, he wanted to partner more proactively with Iowa State. The request itself took Coacher by surprise because he considers Snap-on to be a well-run company on the leading edge. However, it didn’t stump him; in fact, he had an obvious choice for a cooperative effort between the company and Iowa State.

Each CIRAS account manager is assigned a discipline within the ISU College of Engineering. Coacher’s area is the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering. Students in that department’s senior design course need manufacturers who want their newly honed problem-solving skills, the first chance for them to apply all their engineering knowledge to the real world.

Subsequently, seven teams of students from IE 441 spent their fall 2007 semester making the two-hour trip to Snap-on to tackle projects outlined by Marienau and instructor Leslie Potter, who had observed the plant in action. The visits culminated in the teams’ presentations to the company in December 2007, when the final surprises were unveiled.

“I don’t know if I had a unique group, but we received a lot of neat stuff—practical stuff—from them,” Marienau said, adding that Snap-on gained dollar savings from the experience and the students gained too. “They hit the target on all seven projects,” Coacher concluded.

Not so surprising is that Snap-on Tools has already signed up to work with another class of Iowa State industrial engineering students. And CIRAS continues making more connections.

4-H alum nominated as Board of Regents student representative

Greta Johnson

When asked how her 4-H experiences played into her recent nomination to the Board of Regents, Greta Johnson did not hesitate for a moment. “I can seriously attribute much of my success to starting out in 4-H,” said Johnson, who recently was chosen to serve as the only student representative on the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

A junior at Iowa State University in political science, Johnson was active in a variety of 4-H project areas and credits projects such as educational presentations and working exhibits for her communication skills.

Her 4-H projects also gave her a broad understanding of many things that seem to be common sense now.

“I had to talk to an adult judge when I was only 10 years old, and because of that I take a lot of things I know for granted,” she said. In addition, being involved at the state level as a 2005-2006 State 4-H Council member allowed her to meet a variety of people beyond her high school, giving her a solid base of connections and familiarity with ISU.

“My 4-H experience led me to want to be involved at ISU,” she said. “From being out here for a variety of events, I feel like I had a broad knowledge of the university and an upper hand.” In turn, her nomination to the board was possible because of her involvement as an ISU student and connections from those activities.

Johnson also served as a 2005-2007 Iowa 4-H Foundation board member, which allowed her to grasp a taste of what it’s like to serve on a statewide board as a young person. She will serve on the Board of Regents for one year.

The Board of Regents, State of Iowa consists of representatives from all three major universities in Iowa, including Iowa State, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa. The Board also includes members from the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.

Communities can raise healthy kids

Raising Healthy Kids

Communities play an important role in raising healthy kids, says Ruth Litchfield, ISU Extension nutrition specialist. “By building partnerships among schools, families, community groups and individuals, communities can create a health-promoting environment.”

Communities help raise healthy kids with sidewalks and bike paths. Their parks are accessible and safe, and they offer a variety of sponsored activities at convenient times for all ages, Litchfield added. “But one of the first steps of the community partnership is to conduct an assessment of the community – like Boone did.”

With money from a Department of Transportation grant, the Boone County Fit for Life Coalition assessed the community’s walkability and with the city engineers have identified needed changes – curb cuts for accessibility, sidewalk repairs and flashing lights near school crossings. (Learn more about the Boone project.)

Conducting an assessment helps a community prioritize and target its efforts, Litchfield said. “Identifying a common goal makes the partnership more efficient and effective.”

Litchfield is an author of ISU Extension’s Raising Healthy Kids publication series, designed to help parents, communities and child care providers address important health and nutrition questions. All the publications in the series are available at no charge from ISU Extension offices or from the ISU Extension Online Store.

Extension’s energy tip: Take whole-house approach to heating

programmable thermostat

Keep your energy bill and your pollution output low this winter by taking a whole-house approach to heating. Start with setting your thermostat as low as is comfortable. A programmable thermostat can help by adjusting the temperature according to your schedule -- it can cut back heating at night, for instance, and turn it up again before you rise in the morning. Weatherize your home -- caulk and weatherstrip any doors and windows that leak air. Make sure your equipment is properly maintained and cleaned, and regularly replace furnace filters. Finally, insulation is inadequate in many homes. Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. Check out Heating and Cooling for more tips. This tip is brought to you by the U.S. Department of Energy and ISU Extension.