Local Food Systems Get a Boost from Rising Star Interns

October 2014

Rising Star Interns with traveling classroomAMES, Iowa — It was a summer of teamwork for Iowa State University students Nina Streauslin, Jessica Adiwijaya and Nicola Ervin as they investigated southeast Iowa’s regional food systems and identified challenges the communities face around locals foods. Streauslin, a junior studying dietetics; Adiwijaya, a senior in landscape architecture; and Ervin, a senior in child, adult and family services, combined their educational backgrounds to address nutritional and food security needs of area residents.

Their team was one of two initial Rising Star Internship teams sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in partnership with the colleges of Design and Human Sciences. Their task for the summer was to develop goals and implement a strategic plan that would give people a better understanding and incentives to consume local foods.

“In addition to gaining skills that comes with working as a team and collaboratively setting goals and carrying out a plan of work, the students had many opportunities to grow as they interacted with citizens, organizations and agencies in new and unfamiliar networks,” said Bob Dodds, regional director for ISU Extension and Outreach. “They worked as a team to decide what their summer work was going to look like, then set personal goals within the team plan.”

Dodds and Cheryl Heronemus, Extension and Outreach regional director in northwest Iowa, designed the Rising Star Internship program with several outcomes in mind. They invited Iowa State’s best and brightest to come to their regions for a summer and work with ISU Extension and Outreach to connect Iowans with Iowa State resources. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, they wanted students to have an opportunity to make a significant measurable impact and set the stage for future Rising Star interns.

The southeast Iowa Rising Star interns built a garden on wheels to create a traveling “classroom” and expand their ability to introduce gardening to children, with the goal of establishing skills that would last a life time and be shared with family.

“We saw the raised garden beds as a way to connect family members through intergenerational learning, to help extend the household’s grocery budget and create and promote healthy eating habits,” said Nina Streauslin.

The intern team also developed a book of recipes that appealed to and were easily completed by fifth graders. These healthy eating lessons were enthusiastically shared with entire families.

“The interns also looked at ways to increase the number of WIC Farmers Market Certificates, which is below 50 percent, and began to put plans in place,” said Dodds. “In another project, they addressed the design needs of community and school gardens and orchards to ensure sustainability, contribute in the long run to grower success and in support of the educational benefits of community gardens.”

Rising Star InternsIn the northwest corner of Iowa, Iowa State students Evan Fritz, Frankie Torbor and Carlie Rhinehart worked with local producers, businesses and Extension and Outreach staff to address local foods educational opportunities in that region. “It was through a series of tours and meeting people the first couple of weeks of the internship that each of us really got a feel for a key issue that we could address with our skills,” said Evan Fritz, a junior majoring in kinesiology and health. “Our team is much more knowledgeable now about what Extension does and the importance of agri-tourism, horticulture and local foods.”

Rhinehart, a nutrition major, focused on the redemption rate of WIC farmers’ market certificates and said her pride in Iowa State grew with the summer experience. “Being on campus you don’t really get exposed to what Iowa State offers around the state. This internship really has opened my eyes to what the university does for Iowans all over the state, and not just for the students,” she said.

Frankie Torbor, a senior majoring in design and a Twin Cities resident, was amazed by the number of small towns, many types of northwestern Iowa farming operations and the enthusiasm producers had for the intern projects promoting local foods. The northwest Iowa team, along with Heronemus and Dodds, discuss the internships in the recent Rising Star video on YouTube.

Heronemus said having Iowa State student interns in the far corner of the state has strengthened the connection between Extension and Outreach and the colleges. “We often feel that we have the university on campus and then Extension in the counties – these internships are an opportunity for us to truly work together to develop the students,” she said.


Learn more about 2015 Rising Star internship opportunities.