Loebsack learns about farm-to-school foods
Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District’s U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack sat among sixth graders in Cory Klehm’s science class at Fairfield Middle School Monday, hearing Klehm and about 22 students discuss saving seeds from produce and plans to plant those seeds in spring.
Loebsack visited FMS to learn more about the recently awarded $100,000 USDA Farm to School grant for Hometown Harvest Southeast Iowa, part of Pathfinders Resource Conservation & Development Inc., a Fairfield-based nonprofit serving Jefferson and surrounding counties.
The grant will be used to build a learning greenhouse for regional students to visit, plant and learn about growing food. The grant also will be used to increase purchasing and processing of local foods to serve in school cafeterias.
“Our class discussed the grant a little, and students are excited about what they can grow,” said Klehm.
He described a class project of “seed saving” students did a month and a half previous. Klehm, a local farmer and father of three, said it’s important for students to learn how to be self-sufficient.
“It’s wonderful idea to get students involved,” said Loebsack.
The sixth grade students shared about saving seeds from pumpkins, green peppers, squash and tomatoes.
“We had about six or seven varieties of tomatoes,” said Klehm. “Tomatoes were their favorites because they are squishy and have a lot of seeds.”
Loebsack told the students seed saving is another way of recycling. He asked Klehm if storing seeds takes any special method or equipment.
“We try to remove as much moisture as possible,” said Klehm.
Klehm pointed out when someone who grows plants saves seeds, it preserves certain traits.
“And that’s getting more and more challenging with genetically modified seeds and plants,” said Loebsack.
The science class had learned about heirloom seeds that pass down traits from generation to generation.
“We incorporate math into this, too,” said Klehm. “If 200 seeds are saved from one year and planted the next, each new plant grows a multiple of seeds, which can be economical also. We brought in the business side ... not only can you grow your own food, but you also can sell some of it.”
Loebsack related his second job in his life was peddling garden produce from his neighbor.
“He’d drive around, and I’d knock on doors asking if the family wanted to buy a sack of tomatoes or green beans, picked fresh that morning,” he said.
Jan Swinton, local food system coordinator on staff at Pathfinders RC&D told Loebsack she will work to connect farmers to school kitchens and bring students into the process.
“One of our challenges is students are not in school during the growing season,” she told Loebsack.
Swinton asked students what are different ways of preserving produce to eat at a later time. Answers from the class included drying or dehydrating, freezing and canning.
“We need to talk with schools about getting flash freezers in the kitchen to freeze and preserve some vegetables and fruits,” she said.
Bloomfield’s school installed a flash freezer and had teachers help with the processing and preserving fresh produce for use in school meals later in the year.
“We’ll need some volunteer help during the summer to help process and preserve what you grow,” said Swinton.
Loebsack asked if the program would make use of greenhouses, and Swinton said a greenhouse to grow food year-round is part of the plan for the grant program.
“The class will plant the seeds here inside in February,” said Klehm, who brought out a few plastic containers with different seeds saved from fall harvest.
“After the seeds have sprouted, we’ll take them to the high school which has a greenhouse, and let them grow some more,” said Klehm. “When it’s warm enough to plant outdoors, students will take their plants home to grow. The goal is to have produce growing at home all summer long.”
Klehm said being more self-sufficient, such as growing some of the food a family can eat, lightens the family’s financial load.
“It’s good to not always be relying on someone else for your needs,” he said to the class.
Loebsack said too few people in Washington, D.C., are aware of self-sufficient food growing programs. He said urban gardens are making inroads, and as an Iowa congressman, he talks with as many people involved with agriculture as possible.
“I think it’s fantastic for students to be involved, especially with growing food sustainably,” he said. “Now that these USDA grants have been awarded, more people in Washington might hear more about it.
“I’ve learned today that students will be a part of the process of getting food from the farm to the table, and it’s wonderful what these kids are doing,” said Loebsack. “They also have an opportunity to learn entrepreneurship.”
Loebsack has served six years in Congress and won re-election in November. He flew back to the nation’s capital today and said his immediate goal is to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.
“I want to make sure taxes don’t go up for the middle class,” he said.