Carroll Woman Receives Free Groceries from Iowa’s Farmers, “Pays It Forward” to Local Food Bank

May 24, 2010

When asked how it feels to win a year’s worth of free groceries through the recently completed Iowa Farmers Feed US sweepstakes, Luci Heuton of Carroll responded “It’s wonderful! I’ve never won anything in my life!”

Understandable. Most of us haven’t had the fortune of winning anything as significant as $5,000 in food, freeing up extra cash for our more discretionary purchases. Luci was one of two winners – the other being Pam Davis of Grand Junction, Iowa – out of nearly 150,000 registrations on over a three month period. So what’s next on the list for Luci and her husband Paul: an exotic vacation; a down payment on a new car? Nah. How about a gift to the hard-luck folks of Carroll County who are still waiting for their first break?

“When good things come to you, you want to pass them along, so we decided to make a substantial contribution to the food bank here in town,” said Luci, who was hesitant to speak about her generosity and quick to tell me that she wasn’t looking for any extra attention.

It’s an inspiring idea, one that, coincidentally, dovetails with the purpose of the Farmers Feed US campaign: explaining how farmers grow safe, affordable and nutritious food for their communities and a world that’s home to 800 million hungry people.

Maybe it’s not so coincidental. Like Luci, who farmed with her husband until recently, Iowa farmers are continually looking for ways to give back to their communities, their civic organization and churches. Often that means helping to feed the less fortunate in their own hometowns, even as they strive to raise more food for a hungry world. The Farmers Feed US campaign was a good example. Iowa dairy farmers, though the Midwest Dairy Association, donated $1 to local food banks for every new “fan” that signed up on the Farmers Feed US Facebook page They also chipped in a buck for every “follower” who signed up on the Farmers Feed US Twitter account at It all added up to about $30,000 extra dollars at a time when Iowa food banks are struggling with increasing demand and decreased supplies.

It’s that spirit of generosity—caring for the land, caring for animals and caring for neighbors—that makes living in Iowa so great.

Written by Zach Bader
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Make Sure Your Donation Counts

May 11, 2010

A white terrier mix with floppy ears cocked his head to the side and whimpered from his cage; a grey kitten curled her paws and tucked her tiny body a little tighter, dreaming of days spent sunning in a window of a loving home. Both were dumped on gravel roads outside of Fort Dodge and rescued by compassionate farmers, who brought them to the Central Iowa Humane Society Shelter.

These farmers and staffers are pretty typical and they do more for animals in your hometown than the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and all their millions of dollars. So says Charity Navigator, a non-partisan, non-profit charity evaluator and research group, who just issued a down-graded rating for HSUS:

Charity Navigator says HSUS spends only 33 percent of what it takes in on programs, compared to most cause-oriented groups that spend at least 65 percent. HSUS (now) defends itself by saying it’s not in the business of helping homeless animals. But take a look at their website and tell me if you believe that: ( Battered kittens and sad, wide-eyed dogs are featured in prominent places all over their website; you’d never know such animals are at the bottom of their charitable spending.

Of course, livestock farmers smelled a rat in the hen house long before Wayne Pacelle recently brought his three-piece Armani suit and hidden chicken farm videos to Des Moines. Even though the poultry farm took swift action against bad conditions allegedly captured on Wayne’s hidden video, the majority of farmers know the true goal of HSUS is to divide and deride multi-generational family farmers who raise animals for a meat-loving public. That’s why HSUS is pouring your millions of donation dollars into political campaigns to change the size of cages at egg farms and hog barns, changes not backed by animal science or generations of actual farm experience. I’m betting you didn’t know that, did you?

Coming clean to a bacon and egg-loving public clearly won’t sway public opinion (nor solicit enough money) so HSUS hits where compassionate dollars live, pet lovers like me. HSUS caters their messages to moms and kids who have a soft spot for the most vulnerable creatures on earth- neglected and abandoned pets. Even intelligent, high-profile celebrities with a reputation for defending pets, such as Oprah, have been seduced by Wayne Pacelle and HSUS. And, I don’t have to tell you about the value of getting on Oprah’s good side…

Organizations like HSUS really make honest shelter workers like Laurie Hagey of the Central Iowa Humane Society Animal Shelter cringe; she says folks see HSUS commercials and write their checks out to HSUS, not their local shelter. And in this down-turned economy, Laurie knows more animals are in need. Farmers, too, are seeing more cases of urban pet owners “dumping” their animals out in the country. In some cases, the roving, desperate animals can pose a threat to livestock farms. It’s difficult for farmers who spend their lifetime caring for their own pets and livestock to see these sad creatures appear in their farm lanes; it’s just as bad for shelter volunteers.

I learned a lot about going the extra mile for animals from my years growing up on an Iowa hog farm; animal stewardship isn’t always easy or cheap and I give that lesson to my 13-year-old daughter, who is also involved in caring for our extended pet “family” (which now includes a dog, two cats, two frogs, several fish and an occasional hamster). But, there’s a lesson about animal stewardship to be learned here, even if you didn’t grow up on an Iowa livestock farm or have a houseful of pets; reputable, respected, hard-working local shelters deserve your respect (and your help), not out-of-town wolves cloaked in cuddly Labrador skins, like HSUS.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Iowan’s Work on Two Continents Helps Feed the World Sustainably

May 10, 2010

First Lieutenant Scott Rottinghaus (left) farms with his parents, Keith (right) and Jane, and uncles in eastern Iowa.

You’ve heard the Chinese proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Few take the axiom to heart like First Lieutenant Scott Rottinghaus and the Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agri-Business Development Team. This summer the unit will be deployed to Afghanistan, where they’ll work with local farmers to improve upon existing food growing practices.

“Everything we do in Afghanistan needs to be sustainable,” Scott told me after a recent day-long training session in Camp Dodge, just north of Des Moines. “[The Afghans] need to be able to continue any practices or techniques we implement after we leave.”

Rottinghaus (far left) and his comrades are undergoing extensive training to ensure they're ready to deal with the many issues they'll face in Afghanistan. In this photo, the Ag Development Team receives an explanation of chicken anatomy from Iowa State University Extension personnel.

His team will build on the progress currently being made by a unit from California, by working with local leaders to determine their needs and solutions that fit their culture and technological capabilities, focusing specifically on the economical use of water for irrigation, increasing wheat yields and reducing spoilage.

Improving wheat yields is particularly important. Right now many Afghan wheat farms are yielding 19 bushels per acre, compared to 60-100 bushels per acre in the U.S. “If we can teach the Afghans to more wisely use water for irrigation and get more production off their land, not only will they be able to feed themselves, but they could produce extra for export to help feed others around the world,” Scott said.

But he knows that expecting immediate self sufficiency out of developing countries is like handing a beginning fisherman a rod in the middle of a desert. Not all countries have the arable land, stability (within the government and the economy), capital, infrastructure, technology or widespread expertise necessary to release the land’s full productive potential and feed their growing populations sustainably.

Don’t tell Scott the world doesn’t need (or isn’t asking for) our help. Eight hundred million people in the world are hungry, and the UN estimates that farmers will need to increase food production 70 percent by 2050 to feed population growth. That’s why he keeps his day job: raising hogs and grows corn and soybean with his dad and uncles back in eastern Iowa.

“We can help countries like Afghanistan reach their potential, but there’s still going to be a need for U.S. farmers to help feed the world sustainably,” Scott said.

It’s a significant challenge for U.S. farmers, but don’t bet against them. Over the last 60 years, farmers in this country have boosted food production by 262 percent, and they’ve reduced erosion by more than 40 percent over the past 25. I’ve known Scott for 20-plus years, long before he began farming or became “Lieutenant Rottinghaus.” Like many of the farmers I know, he’s competitive and he’s got passion for the work he does.

“I get to work the land and grow food to feed the world, and I’m a solider for the greatest country in the world,” he said. “This mission gives me the opportunity to combine those jobs. It will be an amazing experience, and I expect to learn a lot.”

As for the rest of us, let’s pray for a safe and successful mission and salute soldiers and farmers like Scott, working to ensure we have enough “fish” and “fishermen” to feed our growing world.

Written by Zach Bader
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Why my backyard garden won’t feed the world (or the neighborhood)

May 5, 2010

Everyone has a bad habit they would like to break. Some people bite their fingernails; others can’t say no to chocolate. My bad habit? Gardening.

OK…maybe it doesn’t really qualify as a bad habit. But it certainly feels like an obsession sometimes.

Every night when I get home from work, the first thing I do after kissing my husband on the cheek is head out the backdoor to check on my garden.

A neighbor once asked why I was out pulling weeds while still wearing heels and dress pants. “Stress relief,” I told him, as I yanked a maple tree seedling from the damp soil.

Lately I’ve heard news reports that vegetable gardening is a “hot” new trend. More and more Americans are growing vegetables in their backyards to save money on grocery bills or support the “local food” movement.

I didn’t start gardening because it was trendy. After all, as a typical Iowan, I’m about two years behind the latest trends.
No, I started gardening when my husband and I bought our first house about five years ago.

I mentioned to my farm-boy husband that I wanted to plant a few flowers in the backyard. I came home from work one day to find that he had dug up a sunny patch of lawn in our backyard using nothing but a shovel and some elbow grease.
All of the sudden, I had a 5-foot-square bare spot in the yard that I needed to fill with something besides weeds.

At first, I played it safe and planted tomatoes, because everyone in Iowa wants their own backyard tomato vine. Then during a stop at a local home-improvement store, my husband grabbed a packet of lettuce seeds to plant.

The lettuce turned out to be ridiculously easy to grow. And when I ate my first BLT with the lettuce and tomatoes I grew in my backyard, I was hooked on gardening.

Every winter, I come up with big ideas to plant all kinds of different vegetables and flowers in the spring. But once the snow melts, I remember just how little space I have to work with, given the towering pine trees that shade our backyard.

And it seems like Mother Nature never wants to cooperate. Rabbits ate the tops off my sweet potatoes; squirrels dug up my onion bulbs; the pumpkins and squash were overrun by moths and vine borers; and we ended up with way, way too many green beans for two people to eat.

If I’ve learned anything from my gardening adventures, it’s that growing food is hard work – all the weeding, watering, pruning and screaming when the occasional garter snake crosses my path.

I’ve definitely come to appreciate all the work that farmers do to grow such beautiful, delicious and healthy foods for my family.

Today, the average U.S. farmer grows enough food to feed 155 people. Meanwhile, I can’t get close to feeding a family of two from my little garden (although I’m doing a good job of feeding a family of rabbits).

I’m glad that I can rely on the local farmers’ market when my tomatoes are bug-ridden or refuse to turn red in an unseasonably cool summer.

And when I’m craving a BLT in the middle of January, it’s amazing that I can head over to the small-town grocery store just three blocks from my house and pick up hothouse tomatoes from Canada and iceberg lettuce from California.

Because if there’s anything worse than my bad gardening habit, it’s my year-round obsession with BLTs—made with Iowa bacon, of course.

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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