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Food & Family Project offers education, first-hand farm experience

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 11:35 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 11:58 a.m. CST
(Submitted Photo)
Kevin Van Manen, of Kellogg, gives Dustin Davis, of Ottumwa, the chance to experience hog farming firsthand on Aug. 3 while sister Destiny and parents Adam and Sonya look on. The Davises, who were chosen to participate in the Iowa Soybean Association's "U on the Farm" program, were given a tour of the Van Manen's Kellogg farm in order to better understand food's journey from farm to dinner plate.

One year after the Iowa Soybean Association launched its Food & Family Project, the growth and expansion of the initiative continues to unite Iowans with the farm families that work year-round to bolster Iowa’s agricultural industry.

“The Iowa Food and Family Project is part of the ISA and our portfolio of informational and educational activities launched last year,” said Aaron Putze, director of communications and external relations for the ISA. “The real purpose and intent and mission of this initiative is to unite consumers and farmers in conversations about food about today’s farms, about today’s food systems and the benefits they provide not only to the consumer but to the environment and community vitality as well.” 

At the heart of the project is the objective to narrow the gap between Iowans readily involved in agriculture and those who may wonder exactly where their food comes from.

“Roughly 3 percent of Iowans are directly involved in agriculture, while 97 percent are one, two or three generations removed from farming,” Putze said. “With that comes a need to answer the questions that a growing number of consumers have about their food and the people who grow it.”

“I would say there’s really been a renaissance of interest in food, particularly as it relates to food safety: how it’s produced, where it’s produced, and the men and women who grow it and produce it,” he said. “These questions are very sincere questions, and it’s important that we connect with consumers and answer those questions, because there’s no one more passionate, credible and dedicated to providing the answers than Iowa’s farm families.”

One of the programs within the Food & Family Project allows families to find answers to these very questions while getting their hands a bit dirty in the meantime. The “U on the Farm” program, which operates through the Food & Family Project’s Facebook page, gives families the opportunity to spend a day on a local farm and experience firsthand the work Iowa’s farm families perform on a daily basis to raise crops and livestock. 

“It’s a great way to engage our Facebook followers, where we offer the opportunity for people to tell us why they’d like to visit a farm,” he said. “Each quarter, we select a winning family that then gets to experience farm life and participate in on-farm activities and meet and visit with the farm family.”

Most recently, Ottumwa residents Adam and Soyna Davis, along with their children, Dustin and Destiny, were selected to participate in the program. U on the Farm led them to the Van Manen farm in Kellogg, where they spent a day in the life of a farm family with Kevin and Julie Van Manen, along with their children Jacob and Emily. The Van Manen raise corn and soybeans in addition to hogs and cattle on their farm just east of Newton.

“We really believe that seeing is believing, so we do a lot to provide families with the opportunity to actually set foot on a farm and visit with a farm family,” he said. “It’s that type of personal engagement that really helps people truly understand the miracle of food and the integrity and dedication of the people behind it.”

In addition to U on the Farm, the ISA is looking to expand its outreach through the Food & Family Project via telephone town hall meetings, which would allow curious consumers to dial in and chat with farmers and dietitians, as well as various opportunities to get involved online.

“We do a lot of activities through our Facebook page,” he said. “If people want to experience farm life, let us know — we’ll make it happen.”

Through the Food & Family Project as well as the variety of specific experiences it offers to consumers, Putze hopes to emphasize the importance of farms and the families that run them to Iowa’s agricultural industry — no matter the size of the operation. 

“The beauty of Iowa agriculture is that it is extremely diverse,” he said. “We have about 92,000 farms in Iowa, and they all have a very important part to play. We have farms of all shapes and sizes, but the one common denominator among them all is the dedication, the perseverance and the integrity of the families that make those farms work.”

“The story of Iowa agriculture is truly an inspiring story, and it’s one that we share through the work of the Iowa Food & Family project.”

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