North Liberty Community Pantry Garden fosters health, community


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Garden and Volunteer Coordinator Ilsa Dewald working with youth volunteers in the North Liberty Community Pantry Growing Together Garden. (Steven Williams/Special Projects and Marketing Coordinator)
Jenna Ladd | August 16, 2016

The North Liberty Community Pantry has come a long way since its first days serving families from a First Methodist Church closet.

While the pantry is still an outreach ministry of the North Liberty church, its facilities are hardly comparable to the organization’s modest beginnings in 1985. The pantry is now housed in a modern building that features a client-choice shopping model. The building also features refrigerated and frozen food capacities, which is all part of the pantry’s mission to offer clients equal access to wholesome foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy. Executive Director Kaila Rome explains, “Everyone deserves to have the option of healthy nutrition choices, along with the access to knowledge and resources to implement healthy eating.”

Two years ago the pantry expanded that effort through the establishment of the North Liberty Community Pantry Growing Together Garden. The pantry received a Gardening for Health grant through the Wellmark Foundation’s initiative to provide healthier options to people experiencing food insecurity. The grant was matched by North Liberty community donations and provided funds for a paid garden coordinator, necessary equipment, and installation. The 9,600 sq. ft. garden is situated just west of the pantry and provided just over 800 pounds of organically grown produce for pantry goers last year.

When produce from the garden hits the pantry shelves, it is often accompanied by cooking instructions and other foods that pair well with it. “We’re still small enough where we get personal interaction with almost every family, or at least we try to, where we can ask them, ‘Hey, have you tried this recipe?’ What worked and what didn’t, people will bounce ideas off of each other so it’s been really great to see that just from having fresh produce. It’s just one of those things that you don’t think can bring people together, but I think it has,” said Rome.

Garden and Volunteer Coordinator Ilsa Dewald also provides more pointed skill-building through the organization of salsa and canning classes for families. Both community members and pantry families attend classes, encouraging cohesion among North Liberty residents. Rome added, “There’s just a big co-mingling of individuals from people who have used our services, maybe need to use our services in the future to people who just stop by the pantry to pick up their CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] share.”

In combination with donations from local farmers, the pantry is able to provide about three pounds of produce to clients per pantry visit. Rome said, “Just because someone is in need doesn’t mean that their needs change, they still need vegetables, they still need produce, they still need meat and dairy items…We’re not just handing out cans of beans and canned soup, but it’s more than that. It’s about giving back, even if you’re receiving services here, people will volunteer in the garden and it really helps them feel like they are able to contribute.”

The Growing Together Garden does more than provide families with the health benefits associated with eating more vegetables and fruits. It also provides a model of a local food system that is not only reserved for those with an abundance of resources such as arable land, start up money, and leisure time, all while curbing greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional food systems. The garden’s food equity work is echoed by fellow non-profit group Grow: Johnson County, which was recently leased two acres of county land by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to combat food insecurity and promote health through a garden education program. The organization grows vegetables exclusively for hunger-relief programs like Table to Table and The Crisis Center and provides garden education to disadvantaged populations. Grow: Johnson County’s Education Director Scott Koepke commented on the North Liberty Garden Project during its infancy, “This is not your typical garden. This is designed to be sustainable for years to come, and large enough to provide food for hundreds of people.”

With home and community gardens on the rise, up 200% since 2008, it seems projects like these will only continue to pick up steam; which, according to Koepke is a good thing, “Food insecurity isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Amish home environment linked to asthma prevention


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Amish children are frequently exposed to microbes from farm animals that have been shown to strengthen their innate immune systems. (bluebird87/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 9, 2016

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that a less dusty house is not always a healthier house. 

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from several universities, including CGRER member and professor and head of the University of Iowa Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, Dr. Peter Thorne, found that particular characteristics of the Amish household bolster children’s immune systems and prevent asthma.

Researchers began with comparing two seemingly similar communities, the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites in South Dakota. Even though the two groups share comparable genetic backgrounds, diets, and lifestyles, a compelling difference in the number of asthmatic children was found. About 21% of Hutterite children aged 6-14 have asthma while only 5% of Amish children, about half the national average, have been diagnosed. Scientists posit that one major difference between the communities accounts for this trend: farming practices.

Hutterite communities operate large, industrialized farms that utilize electricity. Dairy barns are often located a distance away from family homes and children do not play in them. In contrast, the Amish keep single-family, electricity-free dairy farms. Horses are used to power the farms and for transportation. Dairy barns are often located near the family home and are an acceptable play area for children.

The scientists began with a modest study, comparing immune cells found in blood samples from 30 Amish and 30 Hutterite children, all aged 7-14. All 30 of the Amish children were found to have high counts of neutrophils, or white blood cells that act as the body’s “innate immune system.” None of the Amish were found to have asthma. In contrast, 6 of the Hutterite children had an asthma diagnosis and all of them had considerably lower levels of neutrophils in the blood.

Researchers also placed Electrostatic Dust Samplers inside the homes the Amish and Hutterite children to measure toxins and airborne particulates. The electricity-free samplers found that Amish house dust was “much richer in microbial products” from farm animals that are carried into the home. The microbial life found inside the Amish children’s homes explains their spiked neutrophil levels that prevent asthma.

The team was able to corroborate the results in animals, Thorne explains, “When we administered extracts of the two types of dust to mice, we were able to reproduce the differences in respiratory allergy that we observed in the Amish and Hutterite children.”

Dr. Talal Chatila a Harvard Medical School immunologist who wrote an editorial published along with the report said, “it is not far-fetched to start thinking of how one could harness those bacteria for a therapeutic intervention.”

The team also included researchers from the University of Chicago, the University of Arizona, Dr. von Hauner Children Hospital in Munich, Germany, and Allergy and Asthma Consultants, Indianapolis.

Iowa DNR suspects farm crop duster is responsible for Medapolis fishkill


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(Florida Fish and Wildlife/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 3, 2016

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources suspects that crop duster farm chemicals are responsible for killing thousands of fish in a southeast Iowa creek late last week.

A local resident near Mediapolis discovered the dead fish last Friday, July 29th and notified authorities. When investigators arrived they found a five-to-six mile stretch of the Cedar Fork Creek to be littered with slain freshwater species of all kinds including bass, catfish, crayfish, sunfish and chubs. Short sections of Flint Creek were also affected.

DNR quickly ruled out fertilizer or manure spill as potential causes. Ryan Stouder, environmental specialist with the organization says he’s confident that crop duster farm chemicals are the culprit,“The Department of Ag pesticide investigator is pretty confident it is, just off the visual signs of mineral oil in the water.” Investigators are unsure if the contamination was the result of unintentional drift or an emergency aerial dump. Water samples were collected from the scene in order to determine specific chemicals present. If a source can be identified, DNR will take appropriate enforcement measures.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture joined DNR in further investigation on August 2nd.

‘Iowa Watch’ article examines concerns with common Iowa herbicides


A tractor applied pesticide to a field. (Pieter van Marion/Flickr)
A tractor applies pesticide to a field. (Pieter van Marion/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 26, 2016

A recent article by Iowa Watch reporter Lauren Mills examines new research into the environmental and public health concerns of two herbicide chemicals commonly used in the Hawkeye State.

Atrazine and glyphosate – both of which are key ingredients in the herbicide Roundup – have come under scrutiny recently for their potential environmental and health impacts on humans. Earlier this month, California required that labels be placed on all products containing atrazine to warm consumers about the potential human health impacts of the chemical. Specifically, atrazine – the second-most commonly used pesticide in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – has been linked to “birth defects, reduced male fertility and reproductive toxicities in women.”

Glyphosate – the most commonly used pesticide in the U.S. – was determined to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” in a 2015 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization.

Last May in Iowa City, the Pesticide Action Network of North America released a report which outlined the impact that pesticide exposure has on children living in rural areas.

To read Lauren’s full piece, visit IowaWatch.orgIowa Watch is produced by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news service established in Iowa City in 2010.

On The Radio – USDA, EPA aim to curb food waste


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(Food Recovery Hierarchy/Environmental Protection Agency)
Jenna Ladd | July 18, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers a call to action released by the USDA and EPA to reduce food waste nationwide. 

Transcript: USDA and EPA announce food waste reduction goal

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced the first food waste reduction goals in U.S. history.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Released on July 1st, the U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal: A Call to Action by Stakeholders seeks to galvanize farmers, food manufacturers, grocers, consumers, and policy makers to reduce food waste by 50 percent before 2030. The initiative outlines best practices as identified by stakeholders including the creation of markets for aesthetically unappealing produce, implementation of community composting systems, and the development of new food storage technology that would prevent spoilage. The document is the direct result of a Food Recovery Summit that was held last November in Charleston, South Carolina.

Iowa City Recycling Coordinator Jen Jordan organizes the commercial composting program at the Iowa City Landfill.

Jordan: “Fifteen percent of what goes into the Iowa City landfill is food waste so the city is definitely on board with efforts to help individuals and businesses reduce food waste, and not only to save the food waste from going to the landfill but to save money as well.”

Participation in the national 50% reduction goal is voluntary, but states like Massachusetts and Vermont have already instituted commercial food waste bans. Food waste makes up a majority of U.S. landfills and quickly generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. EPA notes that food loss reduction would help to mitigate climate change, address food insecurity, and save producers money.

For more information about food waste reduction in the U.S., visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.

For the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Study finds consumers, retailers waste about half the produce grown in the U.S.


(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 15, 2016

New research suggests that as much as half of the food produce in the United States is wasted.

“demand for unattainable perfection” in the appearance of fruits and vegetables is largely to blame for the vast amount of wasted food. Fruits and vegetables are often led in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or shipped directly to landfills when deemed unsellable because of cosmetic imperfections. According to government data, about 60 million tons of produce, worth about $160 billion, is wasted by American retailers and consumers annually. Globally, about 1.6 billion tons, valued at about $1 trillion, is wasted each year.

Despite these findings, researchers recognize that there is currently no clear way to account for food loss in U.S. However, the World Resources Institute and other thinktanks are developing methods to more accurately account for food waste. Wasteful food production practices are detrimental to efforts to fight global hunger and climate change.

Last year U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack called for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. However, one expert argues that Vilsack’s goal could have a negative effect on food economics. Roger Gordon – founder of the Food Cowboy – told The Guardian that a 50 percent reduction in food waste could reduce the profit margin of produce at grocery stores by half. He added that fresh produce accounts for about 15 percent of supermarket profits.

The University of Northern Iowa’s Iowa Waste Reduction Center was established in 1988 with the intention of helping businesses reduce food waste in the Hawkeye State. In 2013, the center released a report entitled “Iowa Food Waste Reduction Program Market Analysis.”

On The Radio – Iowa ranks 14th nationally on local food index


Locavore Index Index graphic 2016 final
(Strolling of the Heifers)
Jenna Ladd | July 11, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers the state of Iowa’s slip from the top on the national local food index.

Transcript: Iowa ranks 14th nationally on local food index

The local food scene in Hawkeye State has slipped over the past four years according to a report by a Vermont-based food advocacy organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Strolling of the Heifers – a Vermont-based, non-profit food advocacy organization released its annual “Locavore Index” last month. The index uses several factors to measure the strength of a state’s local foods scene, including number of farmers markets, number of community supported agriculture – or CSA – programs, and direct-to-the-public food sales revenue from farms.

Iowa ranked 14th on the 2016 index, a slip of one spot from the state’s 13th place finish in 2015. The Hawkeye State has gradually slipped event year since the Locavore Index was first released in 2012, when Iowa finished second.

For more information and for a complete list of the 2016 rankings and for information on farmers markets near you, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.