Spotlight on Tina Bakehouse, SWIFFI outreach coordinator
How long have you been working as a local food coordinator, and what does your job entail?
I’m new to SWIFFI, for I started my position at Golden Hills RC&D as their outreach and communication coordinator just last August. This position involves me wearing many hats. My primary job includes communication strategy for Golden Hills by sharing their story, using a variety of channels (media, face-to-face, written, etc.)
Additionally, I promote and coordinate arts, culture, and local foods initiatives: the Southwest Iowa Art Tour, storytelling events, Council Bluffs School District Farm to School program, southwest Iowa farmers markets, and coordinate, develop, and facilitate AgArts camps throughout southwest Iowa.
Tell us about your background and training.
Currently, I live on Maple Edge Farm near Hastings, Iowa, with my husband Jon and son Anderson. I’ve earned two BAs from the University of Northern Iowa, one in communication studies and psychology, and the second in communication-theatre and English teaching.
I’ve also earned a master’s degree in communication studies through the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a certificate in advanced professional writing, Keirsey’s temperament theory, and have completed two levels of improvisation training.
For nearly 20 years, I was a communication educator, including 10 years at Creighton University where I taught in the Communication Studies Department and coached students in the Communication Center.
During the 2016-2017 school year, as a Mills County Extension board member, I started some farm to school projects at East Mills Elementary School. In addition to being a Practical Farmers of Iowa member, I’ve also created and hosted youth AgArts camps at Maple Edge Farm and planted a prairie with East Mills fifth graders.
This summer, I’m collaborating with Mary Swander, author and Iowa poet laureate, and Practical Farmers of Iowa to facilitate an AgArts Family Day at Maple Edge Farm, which includes teaching families where their food comes from, using art as the vehicle to initiate discussion about our food system.
In April, I’m presenting a TEDx talk about AgArts. My hope is to inspire others to create more opportunities of getting people on farms, supporting farmers and local artists.
I’m passionate about art and agriculture, cooking and eating local foods, walking near the Nishnabotna River, biking the Wabash, reading and writing creative nonfiction, and watching Broadway shows. I’ve traveled throughout the US in addition to Mexico, Canada, Africa, and Europe, which has provided a unique appreciation for Southwest Iowa’s offerings.
What do you see as the main challenges to local foods development in your area? How are you trying to address these?
Sadly, eating locally-sourced food is a challenge. The irony is that Iowa is known for agriculture and has some of the richest soil in the world, and yet, we have some of the worst health in the nation. This needs to change. Local foods are harder to find, generally more expensive, have a shorter growing season, and require FDA and USDA regulations, which makes it difficult for schools to serve local vegetables, fruit, and meat.
Finding a sustainable, easy means of procurement poses a challenge as well, especially for farm to school projects. It takes a cadre of devoted, passionate people to keep locally-sourced food available, for when one person leaves, usually the program dies. Currently, I’m connecting with farmers and artists to educate families and youth about where their food comes from through AgArts as well as promote local farmers markets.
On a personal level, I’m devoted to growing some of my own food and supporting local farmers. Recently, I traveled two hours round-trip to get local vegetables and a ham for this year’s Easter dinner.
What are some of your favorite projects or successes?
Last year, I took a leap of faith, and developed and facilitated a pilot project: two AgArts Camps at Maple Edge Farm. An AgArts experience uses an interdisciplinary approach of blending science and art to teach participants where their food comes from. For example, participants learn about soil health from a farmer, craft a pinch pot from clay soil on that farm with a potter, and sample healthy food in the pot that they made.
I connected with an Omaha theater educator to assist with a storytelling and visual art project and assisted my husband in developing curriculum to teach youth about the impact of livestock and plants for soil health. These pilot projects have expanded beyond Maple Edge Farm, to five other southwest Iowa farms. I’m collaborating with Practical Farmers of Iowa and other local creative folks to produce an AgArts documentary film to inform others about AgArts.
Additionally, I’ve working with dietitian Judy Dittmar from the Council Bluffs Public School District Pick a Better Snack program and am composing an article to share about its success in the district.
What are you looking forward to next?
I’m looking forward to expanding AgArts projects, beyond southwest Iowa, collaborating more with Mary Swander and Iowa universities to connect people to their food, using creative strategies such as the arts to discuss and initiate change in our food system. By working as a community, sharing art and agriculture, I hope to create new experiences together.
You can contact Tina at firstname.lastname@example.org.