Expanding the Sustainable Agriculture Components of Real Soil, Real Food, A Real Difference

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2012: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Manager:
Diane Weiland
The Wallace Centers of Iowa

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), peppers, tomatoes
  • Animals: fish


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Education and Training: demonstration, mentoring, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: earthworms
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, public policy, community services

    Proposal abstract:

    Real Soil, Real Food, A Real Difference (RSRFRD) is an educational program for teens that combines the study of current food issues with team-building experiences, hands-on learning, and dialogue with experts. During the intensive camp session, participants study local and global concerns such as food insecurity and hunger, food safety, soil conservation, local food systems and how the environment is affected by food production. In addition to studying critical issues in-depth, the participants work with each other during daily team-building exercises, gardening and produce harvest, meal preparation, and project planning. Field trips to relevant sites such as the World Food Prize, the Neely-Kinyon Research Farm, conservation projects, a local farmers market, and ethnic restaurants enhance the course materials. With staff guidance from The Wallace Centers of Iowa (WCI), participants incorporate their learning during the following year into a related independent project that encourages systemic change among their peers. In 2011, WCI piloted an initial six-day session with seven high school students. Feedback from the participants resulted in this proposal to expand the program for more in-depth study in areas related to sustainable agriculture. Two nine-day sessions will be offered in the summer of 2012 with a target of 25 students.

    WCI is offering two sessions: June 15-23 and July 6-14, 2012. Group sizes are between 10 and 15 students to allow for better team-building, greater individual attention from instructors, and more manageable field trip accommodations. The program utilizes the existing resources at WCI’s Country Life Center location: a 4-acre organic production garden and orchard, a nine-acre prairie and farm pond, two high-tunnel hoop houses, greenhouse, and a commercial kitchen. Over the nine days, students will focus on several food and sustainable agricultural issues: food safety, nutrition/obesity, food insecurity and hunger, local food systems, soil and water quality and conservation, and organic practices. At least one day will be devoted to each topic, focusing all of the day’s research investigation, expert speakers, discussion, and hands-on activities. Staff and outside experts help the students understand how topics are interrelated for a better grasp of complex issues.

    This proposal focuses on the sustainable agricultural components of the existing RSRFRD curriculum, seeking support to expand from a six-day program to nine days. Student feedback from the pilot indicated a desire to learn more about local food systems, soil and water conservation, and organic farming practices. WCI will contract with a curriculum development specialist to research and incorporate new resources about sustainable agriculture from such sources as the SARE Outreach office and the AFSIC at the National Agricultural Library. The specialist will also arrange for the students to learn directly from nearby experts such as the Iowa State University (ISU) Sustainable Agriculture Chair, Dr. Matt Liebman, and staff at ISU’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Students will lunch at the Leopold Center’s Seasons Marketplace cafeteria, and observe how it uses 35% of local foods in its menus and contributes food waste to ISU’s compost facility. Sharon Wasteney, a Buy Fresh, Buy Local expert in southwest Iowa, will supplement the local food systems existing curriculum with more information about this food movement. Participants will work in WCI’s produce gardens, interview vendors at a local farmers market, talk with the market manager about local foods, and assist Katie Routh, WCI’s Chef/Food Programs Manager, in preparing meals using as many fresh, local ingredients as possible. Sarah Costa, WCI’s Farm Programs Manager, will emphasize organic farming practices in soil quality, weed and pest management, and water conservation as the students care for WCI’s gardens and orchard. Students will also observe local soil and water conservation projects such as a water and sediment control basin under the guidance of local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff.

    During the intensive session, participants also plan their independent project for later implementation. They set a goal, describe the current situation, outline the problem, identify resources, break down the project into key steps, set a timeline, and develop project details. On the final day, community leaders watch each student’s PowerPoint presentation about his or her independent project and discuss what students learned during the intensive session. Past participants return to subsequent program sessions to present the results of their independent project to new participants. 

    What students will learn about Sustainable Agriculture: 
    Because of the program’s comprehensive curriculum of investigation, hands-on learning, and expert access, participants will come away with a working knowledge of sustainable agriculture. After participants attend a farmers market and interview producers, they will understand the economic impact of buying locally, food’s carbon footprint and the nutritional benefits of cooking with fresh garden ingredients. As students work at least an hour each day in the on-site produce gardens, they will learn more about organic farming practices such as weed control (i.e. row covers, proper hoe use, mulching, and planting rotation) and insect management (i.e. beneficial insects, observing and hand picking, timing of plantings, companion plantings and insect traps). Hands-on soil erosion activities led by the NRCS regional educator and a tour of local conservation projects will enable students to observe firsthand what can and should be done to prevent soil erosion. At the end of the intensive camp, all of these experiences will help participants define sustainable agriculture as farmers making the most efficient use of farm resources, using minimal outside inputs, and implementing practices that protect the soil and water while sustaining the economic viability of farming and enhancing the quality of life for farmers and the community.

    Project impact on students and the community:
    By increasing the focus on sustainable agriculture, we expect that students will gain even more knowledge in those related topics and report a greater change in related practices. In the 2011 post-program survey, for example, all of the students reported knowing more about food safety and changed how they handle food such as washing hands, cooking food thoroughly, and avoiding cross-contamination. 71% reported a better understanding of local food systems and 43% plan to shop at a local farmers market. All students reported more knowledge about the importance of soil quality and conservation, while 57% said they will share the new information with others. In addition, everyone indicated increased awareness of potential careers in agriculture, conservation, environmental science, nutrition, health, and other related fields.

    The independent project component has the greatest potential to impact the community. Expanding to a nine-day session will allow more time for each student to develop his or her independent project under staff guidance, increasing its chance of success. Projects planned during the pilot include a Girl Scout day camp focusing on hunger and food insecurity, a healthy eating day camp for elementary students, and a plan to increase youth entrepreneurs at a local farmers market.

    Resources used to plan and carry out the project:
    Dr. Deb Hall of Iowa State University Extension in Adair County developed the pilot curriculum and taught much of the first session. During 30 years with ISU Extension, Dr. Hall has served in several capacities including state 4-H and Youth Development Livestock Specialist. The current curriculum includes research and materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Partnership for Food Safety Education, and the International Food Information Council. Expanding to a nine-day program will allow the inclusion of more research-based resources from organizations such as SARE and AFSIC. Organizations continuing their involvement include the Iowa Department of Human Resources (food insecurity), Iowa State University (Dr. Ruth Litchfield – nutrition/obesity), Southwest Iowa Egg Cooperative (food safety), Picket Fence Creamery (organic/sustainable agriculture), Neely-Kinyon Research Farm (Dr. Kathleen Delate – organic/sustainable agriculture), the Creston Farmers Market (local food systems) and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (soil and water conservation). New organizations that are committed or will be approached for the 2012 program include the World Food Prize, ISU’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, ISU’s Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture, and Buy Fresh, Buy Local. All of these have an existing relationship with WCI.  

    Outreach efforts:
    This expansion proposal is part of the broader RSRFRD program which reaches out to community leaders, youth educators, and the media through several methods. As part of the curriculum, participants present their independent project plans to and discuss program outcomes with community leaders, participant families, and local media on the last day of the learning session. In early 2012, WCI will launch a stand-alone website for Real Soil, Real Food, A Real Difference. The web site will include an overview of the curriculum, a short video promo, photos from the week-long sessions, a participant blog, and individual project summaries. Newsletters, brochures, participant t-shirts, media stories, and links from related web sites will drive traffic to the site. WCI is part of a network of organizations working in the area of youth development, local food production, sustainable agriculture, and healthy eating. One of these organizations is the World Food Prize, which sponsors an annual Youth Institute. WCI will participate in the institute in April 2012, connecting the RSRFRD program with 400 youth and youth educators. Connections with local and statewide media such as Wallace’s Farmer, the Des Moines Register, and participant hometown newspapers and radio stations can provide outlets for program results. 


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.