By Tina Bakehouse, Outreach & Communication Coordinator, Golden Hills RC&D
Judy Dittmar strides across Zack Edler’s third grade classroom. With a purple marker in hand, she writes “KUMQUAT” on the board in all-caps. As the Roosevelt Elementary students file into the classroom, they point to the strange word and murmur, “What’s that?”
Dittmar, the 54-year-old dietitian for the Council Bluffs Community School District, announces, “Who’s ready to try a kumquat?” Some hands shoot up, while some students raise their eyebrows, hesitant to try the orange, oblong fruit.
Dittmar is on the frontlines of America’s struggle to get its children to eat better. Few places in Iowa have as big of an obesity problem as the county that surrounds Council Bluffs. Pottawattamie County was near bottom for health—91st out of Iowa’s 99 counties. In a 2014 report, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 36.8% of Pottawattamie County adult residents are obese, a level that’s five percentage points higher than Iowa’s average of 31.6% for obesity.
Individuals who are obese have a higher risk for other lifetime health problems such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, Type II diabetes, and more. Poor nutrition ranks 6th out of 10 leading causes of death. This has significant financial consequences, increasing healthcare costs.
Teaching kids to eat right can help prevent a lifetime of obesity. “Obese kids are more likely to be obese adults,” said Suzy Wilson, a nutrition consultant at the Iowa Department of Public Health. “The habits kids learn when they’re young can translate to what they’ll do as adults.”
But breaking this cycle is hard.
“For one, it’s hard to change habits. Our environments are filled with snack foods and fast foods that are quick, cheap and tasty,” said Wilson.
Ruth Litchfield, Iowa State University Professor of Food Science and Nutrition said, “Our environment has been referred to as an ‘obesogenic environment’-- it does not promote physical activity and promotes consumption of large portions of high calorie, low nutrient food.”
In 2014, the Iowa Department of Public Health said 14% of junior high and high school students consume less than one fruit a day and 18% consume less than one vegetable a day, less than the daily recommended amount. The U.S. Agriculture Department recommends children ages 9-13 should eat 1 ½ cups of fruit a day and 2-2 ½ cups of vegetables a day.
Eating right is even harder for those who live in poverty. Junk food is less expensive. Many live in a food desert, where there are so few grocery stores that finding healthy, affordable food is hard. Unfortunately, one in five children in Iowa are food insecure. The U.S. Census Bureau shows 10% of Pottawattamie County residents live in poverty.
According to Lisa Stewart, Supervisor of Nutrition Services and Warehouse for Council Bluffs Public School District says, “Eight out of eleven elementary schools serve lunch to students for free. School is the primary food source in Council Bluffs.” The dependence on schools for food makes them perfect for teaching kids how to eat right.
Few school districts in Iowa are working as aggressively to improve the eating habits of their students. Council Bluffs is one of only 14 Iowa school districts, 92 schools in 13 counties, involved in the Pick a better snack program, a federal program developed in Iowa that teaches healthy eating habits and encourages physical activity. In order to qualify for the program, urban schools must report 60% of their student population participate in free and reduced-price lunch program; whereas, rural schools report 55% participation. Even having a dietitian conduct a nutrition lesson in an elementary school is unusual.
But Dittmar is proving that children from disadvantaged households can learn to eat healthier at home. Each month during a 30 minute lesson, she introduces a food, reads a related book, encourages students to do a physical activity like jumping jacks, provides food samples, and asks for student feedback. Dittmar says, “Kids are more likely to try new foods at school. It’s positive peer pressure.”
Her healthy habits are contagious. Buzzing through hallways with her food cart wearing a bright red, polo, jean skirt, and tights decorated with pictures of vegetables, she hugs students, welcomes food staff, and high-fives teachers. With her petite, athletic build, she exudes confidence and passion for healthy eating.
In high school, Dittmar thrived as an athlete and raised a garden with her family. She practices what she preaches. She runs half marathons, bikes trails and roadways, and enjoys eating fresh produce from the Bountiful Basket program.
Students give a “thumbs up” if they like the food. “Don’t ‘yuck’ my ‘yum’,” Dittmar says, teaching children to respect different opinions, empowering them to make their own decisions. Third graders receive bingo cards, encouraging families to be active and eat healthy. All students wear stickers, saying “ASK ME ABOUT _______” to elicit discussion with parents at home.
Hailey Moher, age 6, says, “She brings yummy things, and we try different fruits.” Mason Aldredge, age 6, says, “Judy is fun. We try new foods, like garbonzo beans.” Zach Edler, Roosevelt third grade teacher, has started eating the healthy snacks this year and has observed more students trying new foods because he’s willing to try them.
Sindy Kafka, Roosevelt kindergarten teacher, noted she’d never tried jicama before. Kafka says that because of Judy, she tried it, and along with the kindergartners, now knows what it is.
Wilson, from Iowa Department of Public Health, has seen Judy interact with students in the classroom, saying, “The kids like Judy. She does a great job relating to students and connecting the Pick a better snack lesson to academics, getting kids excited about fruits and vegetables.”
Stewart, Dittmar’s supervisor, agrees, saying, “I learned everything I know about nutrition from Judy. She’s very important to the district, this department, and a great part of our team.”
Dittmar’s lessons reach beyond the classroom. Her lessons even get parents to eat better. Sara Watts, Mason’s mom, says, “I normally don’t eat a lot of fruit and veggies. When we’re at the grocery store, my son points out food he’s had at school and asks me to buy them. Like pears. Or pineapple. Now, we’re eating a lot healthier at home.”
Pick a better snack has three goals: increase intake of fruits and vegetables through food tastings; increase physical activity to 60 minutes daily; and increase consumption of low-fat dairy. In this program, Dittmar presents fun, research-based lessons, prepares healthy snacks, and coordinates with teachers, Iowa Department of Public Health, other dietitians, and staff. She writes grants to fund her programs and supplies because her position is 80% grant funded.
Each month, she teaches 1,500 students in seven elementary schools, contacting over 12,000 youth each year, bringing in $57, 418 for the district.
Due to dietitians such as Dittmar, the Pick a better snack program affects children’s eating behavior. In 2011-2012, the USDA conducted a study that showed students participating in the Pick a better snack program ate more fruits and vegetables than those who did not participate in the program.
The word is getting out.
With an increase in marketing the program on social media, billboards, posters, online, and at schools, there’s more awareness about the program and the importance of eating healthy, supporting Dittmar’s efforts. “It’s making small changes in the food we choose to eat,” said Wilson, referring to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
But the program’s success is being overshadowed by budget fights in Washington. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, “SNAP Ed,” is one of the programs under debate for future funding, which is supported by the Farm Bill. Agriculture committees in Congress are debating whether to make big changes to all SNAP Ed programs, which funds Pick a better snack. With over $600,000 devoted to the Pick a better snack program throughout the state each year, Iowa Department of Health officials are watching the Farm Bill debate closely to see whether SNAP-Ed will be cut.
Even with the program’s success, Dittmar is worried about the program going away. “I’m a nonessential,” she says. Nutrition education is considered supplemental education, and the program is threatened.
Even with these challenges, Dittmar continues pursuing opportunities to expandnutrition education in the district. She’s writing another grant. If she earns this grant, the Council Bluffs school system will have another dietitian who will teach Pick a better snack to more students in the district.
Dittmar holds the kumquat in her hand. Excited to find this “rare treasure,” she buys them in bulk to share. Grinning, she says, “Kumquats are my favorite—nature’s sour, tart candy. Give it a try.”
The students can’t let Dittmar down. After the sniff test, they pop the unique fruit in their mouths. Everyone makes a face. A few pass on second helpings. Several shriek in delight. Echoing many of the positive responses, Kinzie Jones, age 9 says, she’d try them again because “They’re both sweet and sour.”
If you walk into Roosevelt or the six other elementary schools, you’ll see the Council Bluffs Community School dietitian Judy Dittmar. She’ll be zooming from class to class with her “You’ve Got Power” cart, passing out snap peas, or hummus, or kumquats to try and smiling and hugging kids as they run by. Dittmar goes the extra mile. Like Stewart says, “There’s so much more to Judy’s job than feeding kids and giving snacks.”
In 2015, The Storyteller Project began in Des Moines, Iowa. Each week, tickets sell out. Following this success and the storytelling success on both coasts, Southwest Iowa is catching up and has produced multiple successful storytelling shows recently.
Three at Classic Café. One at Art Church. And now, shifting from Mills County to Page County, the Cottonwood Pavilion in Shenandoah, Iowa is hosting an event, Saturday, June 30 as a fundraiser for Golden Hills RC&D. (mostly) True Things, a storytelling show created and hosted by NY storyteller and singer/songwriter Jude Treder-Wolff, is headlining the evening’s performances.
People want to hear a good story. Last September, Kim Gee, co-owner of the Cottonwood Pavilion with Gil Gee, attended (mostly) True Things for Ladies Night at Classic Café in Malvern. She loved the show. “Storytelling is a wonderful art form, and it’s such a delight to hear storytellers weave a story,” says Gee. Inspired by the experience, she and Becca Castle, project coordinator for Golden Hills, discussed the idea of doing the show at the Cottonwood. After the two stood in the old sale barn and listened to its acoustics, Gee and Castle knew Cottonwood Pavilion would be a great venue for entertainment.
Treder-Wolff will perform and host the show, along with four storytellers from four different counties: Nathaniel Adkins of Red Oak, Carolyn Steinbrink of Shenandoah, Shawn Booher of Omaha, and Nadine Portillo from Germany, a friend of Treder-Wolff and Bakehouse. The three met at a conference in Montreal, Canada in 2015. Three years later, they’re reuniting for this show.
Storytelling connects people. Like Tracy Segarra, Moth Grand Slam winner says, “When someone is telling a good personal story, it’s like we’re all in this together.” Adam Wade, an 18-time Moth storytelling winner says, “With all the technology in the world today, people are looking for some type of real connection with other human beings, and storytelling gives them that.”
Listen to some great stories. Connect with friends and make new ones. Support Golden Hills RC&D’s efforts to continue assisting communities with conservation and cultural projects. Audience members can come for dinner and the show or for the show only on Saturday, June 30 at the Cottonwood Pavilion, located at 1308 West Ferguson Road in Shenandoah.
Happy hour is from 6:00-6:30 pm, followed by dinner at 6:30 pm, and then the show at 8:00 pm. Cost for dinner and the show is $40 per person, limited to 60 people. Cost for the show only is $20. Reservations can be made online on the Golden Hills webpage: http://www.goldenhillsrcd.org/storytelling-events1.html or email Tina Bakehouse at Tina@goldenhillsrcd.org or call 712.482.3029 and mail payment to Golden Hills RC&D 712 S HWY St. PO Box 189 Oakland, Iowa 51560.
Proceeds will go to Golden Hills RC&D to assist with future projects for rural development in western Iowa.
Come join in the fun. See a great story. Be entertained. Maybe be inspired to share your own story in the future. Treder-Wolff will return to Southwest Iowa in November 10 for her one-woman show at the Wilson Performing Arts Center in Red Oak.
by Tina Bakehouse, Outreach & Communication Coordinator, Golden Hills RC&D
As children, we use our imagination. Playing school or cowboys and Indians or dressing up as movie stars. Or, in the 1980s we may have tuned into the television series Little House on the Prairie, highlighting Laura Ingles Wilder’s life. These moments in time can be experienced this summer at the Nishna Heritage Museum in Oakland, Iowa during their summer day camp series. Escape back in time and learn about the people, the landscape, and Iowa’s past, in five different, enrichment camps. Nishna Heritage Museum is partnering with Golden Hills RC&D to provide these day camps for kindergarten to six graders, each Tuesday in June and the first Tuesday in July from 9:00-10:30 am. Below is day camp schedule:
Tuesday, June 5: Original Iowans
View the Native American collection and learn about indigenous people through hands-on activities.
Tuesday, June 12: Early Settlers and Tool Time
Imagine you’re a pioneer. See a thrashing machine and old tool room. Even churn and taste homemade butter!
Tuesday, June 19: No Stop Shop…General Store and Vintage Fashion
Reenact the “good ‘ol days” of shared phone lines, a butcher store, and more. Have a tea party dressed in vintage attire.
Tuesday, June 26: Life before Legos
Play old-fashioned games, like croquet, marbles, and more.
Tuesday, July 3: One-room school house
Travel to an old, one-room school house to role-play a day in the life of Laura Ingles Wilder. Even enjoy a game of softball outdoors!
Each day camp provides hands-on learning opportunities, rich in Iowa history and culture. Come join in the fun. Cost for the each camp is $10 or $25 for all five camps. And, for two children, is $25. As Gayle Strickland, volunteer and member of Oakland Historical Society believes, “Learn from yesterday. Live for today. Hope for tomorrow.” Strickland, along with other volunteers, will inspire children to think, feel, and learn about the past and how it influences the future.
A new study from AAA found that hit-and-run fatalities reached an all-time high in 2016. Most fatalities in hit-and-runs are people walking or biking. Drivers should always be alert and on the lookout for pedestrians and bicyclists. People who are walking or biking should also know and follow relevant laws to stay safe.
We are working to improve safety for all Southwest Iowans--whether on foot, on bike, or in a motor vehicle--through our Bicycle Education program. Check out the webpage or contact us to learn more. We should all do our part to reduce the number of hit-and-runs to zero!
Today is National Arbor Day, a time for celebrating the importance of trees.
According to an Iowa DNR press release, "New U.S. Forest Service research ranks Iowa 9th in urban tree canopy cover loss over a five-year time period, losing almost 2 percent of its tree canopy. In rural woodlands, a separate Forest Inventory and Assessments study showed a loss of 97,000 acres over five years."
Oak trees are the official state tree of Iowa and one of the most common trees in the western part of the state. Unfortunately, oaks are in decline due to a number of factors. Golden Hills is working to help local growers restore and rebuild oak communities in Western Iowa through our Native Oak Project. Learn more and contact us to get involved!
After a seemingly endless winter, it appears that spring has finally arrived in Iowa. With the warmer weather comes more people getting outdoors, including people riding bicycles.
Our region has many great bike trails, and Golden Hills RC&D has worked and continues to work with many partners to develop more trails throughout Western Iowa. Still, trails are not always available and sometimes people need to ride on streets or roads. In order to stay safe and healthy, everyone should know the rules of the road. Over the next few months, we'll be posting information on our blog with information about how to bike and drive safely.
Our friends at the Iowa Bicycle Coalition have great information and resources available to teach riders of all ages, as well as drivers, about safe bicycling and sharing the road with bikes. Check out their website for more information. Here are a few tips to get started...