Imagine Northeast Iowa

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Sprouting Seeds of Change
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Sprouting Seeds of Change

A year ago, I was hurriedly packing my things in Ohio and preparing to move to Northeast Iowa, a place I had never been before. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but what I found was a welcoming community, wonderful friends, and dedication to creating a local, sustainable food system. I cannot express how much I have grown and learned in the last year. I am incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by such great leaders, teachers, and engaged youth.

Through the Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative, I worked with three school districts to develop school wellness. It may seem simple, but my position requires me to be a chef, a teacher, a mentor, a gardener, an event planner, a youth coach, a grant writer, and much more. I can honestly say that I'm never bored with my work, but I also know that I enjoy some aspects more than others. One thing I've learned about myself from my service term is how much I enjoy working with young people and engaging them in projects focused on growth and sustainability.

Fourteen of the eighteen school districts we work in have high school Food and Fitness 4-H Teams. These teams work throughout the school year to implement cross-age teaching lessons, fitness drills, and many other projects. The youth team at West Central CSD (Fayette County) is unique in my mind, both because of their members and what they've been able to accomplish this year.

In November, Briana Morey and Ashley Buzynski , the 4-H Youth Team Reps for West Central, started brainstorming long term goals for wellness at WC. After much discussion, the girls decided that a good long-term goal for their team would be to have a greenhouse built at their school. We decided we would ultimately need funding, support from the school board, and teachers interested in the project. To accomplish funding, I agreed to help the school apply for grants and Briana and Ashley decided that the youth team could sell healthy snacks after school to raise money.

In February, Ashley, Briana, and I presented our idea to the WC School Board and they were very interested. They told us to continue seeking funding for the project and that we would have permission, pending funding, to build the structure. Then, in late March, the school was awarded a grant from Fuel up to Play 60.

In late May, the school received an additional grant from the Lowe's Toolbox for Education Award. Suddenly, we had more than enough funding to construct a substantial greenhouse at the school.  With help from a local greenhouse expert, and the support of the Superintendent, Food Service Director, and several teachers, we have developed a preliminary plan that will allow the school to use the greenhouse space for education throughout the school year once construction is finished on West Central's new school building. Additionally, by sourcing vegetables from the greenhouse, food service at WC will be able to use fresh, local products practically year-round.

I am incredibly proud of this project and the support I've received from the school to make it a reality. However, I am most proud of the growth and dedication I have witnessed from the youth team, especially Briana and Ashley. Because of their ideas, the entire school district will benefit from increased access to healthy, local food and a new, exciting learning opportunity. My involvement with West Central has encouraged me to continue working with students on grass roots efforts and shown me how rewarding and inspiring a few seeds of change can be.

By Katie Lay, AmeriCorps service member www.iowafoodandfitness.org/wegrow

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