Produce safety outreach to Plain communities in Iowa

January 10, 2020

by Teresa Wiemerslage, field specialist

ISU has been offering Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower trainings in Iowa for about two years. But our food safety team noticed very few Plain growers at trainings.

Amish buggy.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay.

Plain farmers can include Amish, Mennonite or Hutterite Christians. They tend to live in separate communities, and they vary in their use and acceptance of technology. The 2019 Iowa census showed nearly 10,000 Amish alone, up 40 percent from the 2010 total.

Plain growers sell produce into auction houses, statewide grocery stores, and national grocery chains. Collectively, sales from these farms represent greater than $2 million of produce sold into the Iowa and regional markets.

Plain community growers are generally concentrated in small areas. If an educator has built a relationship with the community, he or she can reach a large audience by bringing the training to them.

Tailoring trainings

Dan Fillius is a food safety educator for ISU Extension and Outreach. He reached out to community leaders by handwritten letters and, when possible, by direct phone calls. Three trainings were offered to Plain grower communities during the winter 2018-19 meeting season. They took place in northeast, southwest, and south-central Iowa Plain communities. Forty-three farmers took the trainings.

Plain farmers don’t typically use email or radio, or use social media. So Dan and the team created printed materials, and gave them to community leaders who shared the information with their community.

Training binder.

Another barrier was the technology used to present the course materials. Trainers typically give a slide presentation. The team shelved their computers and projectors for these trainings and used a printed flip chart binder developed by Penn State University to display the slides. 

PSA trainings happen in the winter in Iowa when daylight hours are shorter. Many Plain participants travel by horse and buggy. The team adjusted start and end times so farmers could travel during daylight hours and before and after chore time.

Building trust

ISU uses an online registration system that produces auto-filled forms with farmer names and addresses that are used to send course certificates. The Plain communities did not use the online registration system. So the team printed certificates before each class, to hand out at the end. 

We also printed out the materials that other growers receive on USB drives, and put them on a table for participants to take as they pleased.

These simple adjustments on the part of the training team created a learning environment that was comfortable and effective for both growers and educators. Because of the trust established through these courses, several Plain growers have invited the Iowa team to visit their farms for follow-up support.

Learn more about this training program on the ISU Safe Produce website.