Rising Star Interns Create Awareness Around Locally Grown Foods

Nutrition, health, food security and local foods awareness components of internship plans

June 13, 2016, 11:05 am | Cheryl Heronemus, Jerry Chizek, Sherry McGill, Cindy Gannon

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University students are working with northwest and central Iowa local food producers and farmers markets this summer. They have been hired under the Rising Star Internship program sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in partnership with the Colleges of Design and Human Sciences. Interns for the program, in its third year, focus on helping people better understand the local food system and provide incentives for consuming locally grown food.

Rising Star InternsEach intern is part of a team that works closely with ISU Extension and Outreach staff to develop an individual project that identifies benchmarks, sets goals, implements plans, and in the end evaluates the results in a work setting. Students gain confidence by interacting with citizens, organizations and agencies in their temporary community. They are exposed to careers with ISU Extension and Outreach and learn about the land-grant university system. ISU Extension and Outreach regional directors Sherry McGill, Cheryl Heronemus and Jerry Chizek supervise the students.

Plymouth, Woodbury and Monona County interns

Cali Westergard, Ireton, and Jade Jensen, Bettendorf, are Rising Star Interns working in Plymouth, Woodbury and Monona counties.

Cali Westergard is a sophomore in kinesiology and health. Each week she plans to create a short video showing a simple recipe using an ingredient from a local producer. The video will introduce the producer – location, what they sell, and the story of how they got started in this business. Westergard’s goal is to increase awareness - of area producers, how consumers can use their products and the many benefits of buying local.

Jade Jensen is a senior in dietetics. She is creating producer profiles of local food producers. The profiles will have easy-to-make recipes using the local producer’s products. She is currently conducting research to find the best way to publicize the profiles. Early findings show social media may be the best place to market them.

As a team, they find themselves at several different places learning and building their skills. Jensen said, “I am amazed about how fast these weeks have flown by. Between the farm tours, farmers market visits, seminars and more we are constantly on the move!”

Lyon, Sioux, Osceola, O’Brien, Dickinson and Clay County interns

Christel Gustafson, White Bear Lake, Minn., Carissa Brown, Boone, and Emily Dornath, Pocahontas, are interns in the far northwest corner of Iowa this summer.

Christel Gustafson is a senior in nutritional science. Her interest is how food and nutrition affect the body. She also loves to help people. Finding a way to combine these two interests led her to the Rising Star Internship. Working with communities in northwest Iowa, she hopes to improve community member’s understanding of a balanced meal using the USDA program ChooseMyPlate.gov. Her plan is to survey a diverse group of people to understand how they eat lunch and what affects their choices. She plans to incorporate resources from ChooseMyPlate.gov and ISU Extension and Outreach’s “Spend Smart. Eat Smart” program.

Brown is a senior in dietetics. Her planned project is to provide an education program for kids on nutrition and healthy foods. As a future dietitian, she wants to work with kids, educating them on healthy eating habits. Her plans include a workshop offered in each of the six counties. The workshops will include an introduction to the importance of healthy food, a fun game or activity, and an opportunity to taste the fruits and vegetables discussed. Her goal is for kids to become excited about eating fruits and vegetables at home.

Dornath is a junior in graphic design. She plans to create a handbook for producers and vendors at farmers markets consisting of best practices for marketing products and tips on how to set up a farmers market stand. She plans to survey multiple producers about what their challenges are and what help they need to market their products. In addition, she plans to survey consumers at farmers markets to see what they are looking for when they purchase product at the market. Her goal is to have a finished handbook that can be used by producers after her internship.

The team is conducting food demonstrations starting at the Sioux Center Farmers Market on June 15. Some other market visits will be in Spirit Lake, Spencer, Lake Park and Sheldon.

The team is also touring area producers such as Little Swan Lake Winery, Estherville. Brown said, “Being able to see how they function as a business and learn about the processes from managing a herd of bison to making wine was such a great experience!”

Wright, Webster, Humboldt and Hamilton County interns

Rising Star interns Celeste Moeller, Story City; Cristian Chavarria-Garcia, Marshalltown; and Mericia Boutchee, Des Moines are putting their skills to work in four north central Iowa counties.

Moeller is a senior studying dietetics. She is focused on decreasing food insecurity by improving education about local food resources for the elderly population. By conducting pre- and post-summer surveys, she’ll be able to measure change in use and knowledge of food pantries and farmers markets of the elderly population in these counties. She is creating educational flyers and brochures featuring food pantry and farmers market information to post and distribute to individuals and elderly communities. Her goal is to increase the use of local food resources by the elderly population, ultimately improving their overall nutritional intake.

Chavarria is a senior in graphic design minoring in marketing. He plans to develop a campaign to educate people on the benefits of buying locally grown food. The campaign will incorporate a set of posters, handouts and a publication to distribute at farmers markets. The materials will not only specify health benefits but also point out how it benefits local economy and builds a stronger community. During his research, he found there is a large population of Hispanic families who normally don't visit the farmers markets in this area. In addition, his materials will be available in Spanish. He plans to visit with non-English speaking families to talk more about local food availability.

Boutchee is a senior in food science. Her goal is to get a younger generation more involved within the food world. She plans to get all-year-round schools and daycare programs involved with farmers markets by having cooking sessions once per week using fresh ingredients from the food markets. She hopes families as a whole will become more involved with the farmers markets and their kids learn cooking skills.

Farm visits and food demonstrations at the local farmers market also keep these interns hopping throughout the summer. They can be found performing food demonstrations at the Crossroads Mall Farmers Market in Fort Dodge or the Clarion Farmers Market on select Wednesdays through July.

PHOTO: Rising Star Internship takes Iowa State students to Kentwood Farms, Webb, for a visit to learn about local food production.

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