Farm to ISU funding in question

Karen Jennings

Nancy Levandowski, director of ISU Dining, presented the proposed changes for student meal plans to the Inter-Residence Hall Association last week. These plans include cutting $180,000 from the funding for the Farm to ISU program.

The Farm to ISU program has been around for three years. The program is an organization of Story County and supports diversifying farmers. It contains a network of 500 farmers who provide quality food to Iowa State.

The program involves 1,077 farms and about 328,000 acres of land, most of which are located in Story County. Only 57 of those farms produce for the local market.

“The program not only allows thousands of students the opportunity to enjoy agricultural products from Iowa, but it also allows the opportunity to support and know the Iowa families who produce them,” said Darrin Vander Plas, one of the Farm to ISU coordinators.

Farm to ISU focuses on bringing in local proteins, dairy and produce for healthier dining options for Iowa State. The program provides an opportunity for farmers to grow and sell their food in Iowa.

“It’s an important program and I think it should be expanded,” said Paul Willis, coordinator of Niman Ranch Pork Company. “We provide high quality, fresh, healthy and good food and you save 10 percent to purchase your own food in Iowa.”

The products that are provided by Farm to ISU are available year round. Willis produces 500 pigs a year at his farm. As a network with all the other farmers in Niman Ranch, they produce 150,000 pigs per year.

“It gives [Iowa State] a chance to purchase better quality taste, tenderness and pastures,” Willis said. “You get outdoor raised pork with no antibiotics.”

Niman Ranch has it’s own benefits and opportunities as a result of working for Iowa State.

“Farm to ISU is another market for our products,” Willis said. “It offers service to people who are buying the food.”

Overweight or obese Iowans compose 61 percent of residents, according to the 2004 Iowa Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. In response to this information, ISU Dining implemented the program to help students develop healthy eating habits in their college career by providing safe and healthy food to the public and fresh local foods when in season.

A 1 percent increase to student meal plan rates was added in 2008 to support the Farm to ISU program. In proposing changes to meal plans next year, that one percent will potentially be removed to allow additional changes to meal plans.

“Receiving word that the IRHA was thinking about cutting Farm to [Iowa State’s] budget in half was very disappointing. Most of the farms that sell to ISU Dining are located in or near communities where many ISU students grew up,” Vander Plas said.

“Numbers of students, faculty and staff approve of Farm to ISU because it clearly meets one of [Iowa State’s] ongoing goals, which is to ‘partner with Iowans to strengthen their communities’ economies and entrepreneurial capacities.’ Decreasing its budget would eliminate entrepreneurial opportunities for current and future Iowa farmers.”

The removal of the 1 percent increase would have negative results for Willis and other farmers. The Farm to ISU program allows residents and visitors to know that food is raised, delivered and preserved locally. It also gives farmers the opportunity to maintain a high nutritious supply,” Willis said.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” Willis said. “If anything, they should increase the amount of locally produced farming. Products produced locally, allows customers to purchase high animal welfare standards, which they think is important.”

The main goal of Farm to ISU is to have the practices of healthy foods and products become social in Iowa. With farmers like Willis dedicated to helping the environment and Iowa State grow with great tasting quality food; the program and other off campus organizations together can help Iowa have a healthy regional environment.

During the next two years, the Farm to ISU program will work to increase the amount of Iowa vegetables, fruits and nuts purchased by ISU Dining, Vander Plas said. Funds for this project were provided by the United States Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant Program through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.