For Immediate Release
Contact: Teresa Wiemerslage, ISU Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org, 563-794-0599
W. K. Kellogg Foundation Awards $900,000 to Food & Fitness
The W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has awarded $900,000 to the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative (FFI) to be used in the next four years. The award money will fund current strategies related to school wellness, food systems, and active living with an additional focus on the caregivers of children from birth to age five in Northeast Iowa.
The WKKF invests in community-driven projects across the country that work to change policies and systems to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Kellogg's investment in northeast Iowa started in 2008 when it was selected as one of nine sites to be a Food & Fitness community, with a two-year planning grant of $650,000. A three-year implementation grant of $1.2 million followed.
With the additional support, the initiative now moves from the implementation phase to an extended funding phase with a focus on long-term sustainability for the citizens in the six rural counties of Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard, and Winneshiek.
Guided by a Regional Leadership Council of local community members, FFI is grounded and supported by the staff of four core partner organizations: ISU Extension and Outreach, Luther College, Northeast Iowa Community College and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission.
These organizations, each with differing missions, unite under a common vision for the region—to provide access to healthy, locally grown food with abundant opportunities for physical activity and play every day.
"A nine-year investment by a private foundation into a region is unprecedented," said Ann Mansfield, FFI Project Coordinator. "It also speaks volumes about the quality of the work and the strong community relationships needed to sustain it."
"Healthier people make stronger families and vibrant communities," said Mansfield. "The continued support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will help us to further deepen this work with our partners and communities."
The newest strategy of FFI focuses on early childhood care settings. The work is being coordinated by Haleisa Johnson who is housed at Northeast Iowa Community College.
"It is very important to include early childhood outreach because recent studies show increasing prevalence of obesity among children ages two to five. Over 21% of children age two to five are overweight or obese," says Johnson. "If we do not address the health risk of our youngest children they could face a life of chronic diseases which will in turn affect our health system."
While the new strategy is being put into place, FFI plans to build on the three existing strategies by continuing to support area youth as leaders of change in wellness in school and community environments.
Individual behavior change is difficult without the support and influence of healthy environments in which to live, work and play. Because school are hubs of a community, FFI has focused on school wellness for the past three years.
They have worked to engage each school district within the six counties to create practices that benefit the well-being of students and creates a culture which promotes and sustains healthy habits.
School districts are now turning those healthy practices into policy. Activities with proven outcomes for students, like walking school bus programs, recess before lunch, stronger food and beverage policies, active classrooms, and strong farm to school programs are paving the road for long-term system change.
"In so many ways we are a culture of excess," said Emily Neal, Director of School Outreach at Luther College. "Many of our excessive behaviors are those that drive us to be one of the most unhealthy, developed nations in the world."
"Schools are a place to counterbalance societal excess, to model critical thinking and healthy lifestyle habits, and to provide the skills and habits to be productive and healthy citizens of the world," she said.
Outside of the school walls, the Active Living Work Group is dedicated to ensuring that people use the natural and built environments for physical activity, play and active transportation.
Safe Routes to School (SRTS), an international movement to enable and encourage students to safely walk and bike to and from school, is a priority FFI focus. SRTS efforts began in the region in 2008. Since then, over 2000 students walk and bike to and from school, an increase of nearly 50%.
Ashley Christensen, Regional Safe Routes to School Liaison at Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, spearheads SRTS efforts in Northeast Iowa.
"Our work is really one of a kind in that we are the only regionally-based SRTS program in the state and maybe even the country," said Christensen. "We are bringing the benefits of Safe Routes to School to rural populations."
"With all the Safe Routes to School excitement and enthusiasm in Northeast Iowa, now is the time to really push forward," continued Christensen. "We need to continue to work hard today so younger generations can enjoy a healthier, happier and safer tomorrow."
Access to Healthy Food
In the next four years, FFI plans to continue making locally grown food available and affordable in communities, neighborhoods, and institutions.
"Demand for locally produced food including fruits and vegetables as well as livestock products has shown substantial growth. Buying and selling locally produced food revitalizes neighborhoods by creating and keeping jobs and money in the community," says Teresa Wiemerslage, Leader for Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition and ISU Extension and Outreach program coordinator.
In 2011, twenty-five food producers reported over $3.5 million in local food sales. Local schools have purchased over $14,400 from local farmers through farm to school efforts. More locally grown foods can be found on grocery stores shelves.
Wiemerslage says it is not only important to increase the sales of locally grown foods, but to also increase the number of farmers in the area to keep the sales numbers growing.
"Iowa's farmers are getting older and we need more farmers. Almost 30% of Iowa's farmers are over 65; only 7% of our farmers are under 35. Local food production is a great way for young for people to enter agriculture," Wiemerslage said. "We want to see agriculture grow, and bring new ideas and new families to northeast Iowa."
A key ingredient of FFI's success has been the intentional engagement of youth in the planning and implementation of the work. Youth are viewed as partners and provide additional insight and enthusiasm for the changes that will directly impact their generation.
Their actions are leading to systems change in schools and communities. Youth have worked with school food service staff to establish salad bars in lunch programs and to get healthier food options on their ala carte food lines and in concession stands. They also deliver nutrition education and modeling healthy habits for their peers and younger children.
Youth outreach has become a part of the Iowa 4-H program to provide structure and a long-term home in an existing program. Lynette Houser, ISU Extension Regional Youth Coordinator points to the four outcomes the 4-H program strives to develop in each of its youth partners: successful learners, effective leaders, productive citizens and outstanding communicators. Over 240 youth were members of their school-based FFI 4-H teams in 2012.
"Positive youth development is the key component to youth engagement in the FFI and vital for sustaining youth leadership in the work," said Houser. "The additional funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will allow more youth in NE Iowa the opportunity to transform their environments through a multitude of outlets."
"The youth involved in FFI are passionate, engaged and have great ideas. We need to listen to them. It's their future," she said.