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Food effort completed

By Staff | Sep 12, 2016

THE THREE Rising Star interns for Iowa State University Extension Region 7 look over an advertisement in the Fort Dodge office for an upcoming food event. All three have a passion for, and are involved in, promoting local food programs. From left are Mericia Boutchee, of Des Moines; Celeste Moeller, of Story City; and Cristian Chavarria, of Marshalltown.

FORT DODGE – They came. They saw. They went to work.

In August, Iowa State University Extension Region 7 bid goodbye to three interns that worked to learn about and promote local food systems.

The interns – Mericia Boutchee, of Des Moines; Celeste Moeller, of Story City; and Cristian Chavarria, of Marshalltown – were part of the Rising Star Internship program, which is in its third year. This was the first year that Region 7, comprised of Webster, Hamilton, Humboldt and Wright counties, participated.

The program is a cooperative effort between Iowa State University College of Design, College of Human Sciences and ISU Extension. Interns are grouped in three-person teams that work closely with ISU Extension program specialists, regional directors and campus advisors.

They will focus on a multi-disciplinary issue where the potential is significant for measurable impact.

THE INTERNS provided food demonstrations at five different farmers markets this summer, including this one in Fort Dodge. From left are Cristian Chavarria, Mercia Boutchee and Celeste Moeller.

Regional food systems has been the program’s focus since its start in 2014. This topic involves science, technology, design, statistical analysis, economic development, entrepreneurship, engineering, nutrition, health and wellness.

The interns earned $12 per hour with a $35 weekly food stipend and were housed in apartments on the Iowa Central Community College campus. All four counties in Region 7 contributed funds to make the internship happen.

Boutchee said she has an interest in food pantries and assuring food security for the elderly. She was looking for expertise in educating senior citizens about where to find and how to access assistance from food pantries.

She’s a food service major at ISU and said this internship shows her “the smaller side of things.”

Moeller said she is interested in youth shelters, especially in connecting farmers with those shelters to provide fresh fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded because they didn’t sell at a farmers market or other food outlet.

She plans to manage a food service department for a large institution and thinks it will be important to source locally grown food for the institution.

Chavarria is a graphic design major who is developing a campaign for promoting buying locally grown food. He said this will give him the experience of developing and promoting a community-level, grassroots program.

Aside from doing various chores for the four county offices in Region 7, the interns presented food demonstration at least twice at five different farmers markets within the region.

Each was also paired with Fort Dodge-area farmers that grow fruit and vegetables for local markets. Chavarria was paired with Richard Buskin, of Buskin Gardens; Moeller with Richard and Phil Brown of Brown Gardens; and Boutchee with Jim Donnelley of Airport Gardens.

Jerry Chizek, director of Region 7, said the trip’s impact has been to help start a food network, connecting the producers with the consumers.

“Where we are located,” Chizek said, “we have individuals involved, the interns have identified them, but the network is not set up.”

“It’s a great start and I hope the Extension staffs picks up these projects.”

But the biggest challenge going forward,” Chizek said, “is attracting younger producers into local food production.”

Boutchee said she hopes that what was accomplished will have lasting effects in Region 7’s communities.

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