Food U launches for engaged food consumers

Event encourages learning and conversation about modern agriculture and food production

Ankeny, IA — A consumer-facing initiative dedicated to empowering food-minded Iowans to gain firsthand experience and learn from experts in the agriculture and food industries recently launched a new event series.

Food U is an exclusive program for Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) Champions. Throughout the year, Iowa FFP Champions – individuals who want to take a proactive role in learning more about all things food and farming – are invited to participate in special weekday learning activities. The activities include business and farm tours and meeting with individuals and groups who are involved in agriculture. All Iowa FFP Champions are volunteer participants.

Eighteen Iowa FFP Champions participated in the inaugural Food U event on June 28 and toured several facilities in central Iowa. The sites included the Monsanto Learning Center to explore biotechnology and the Iowa State University Dairy Farm to learn about dairy production – the fifth largest agricultural business in Iowa. The event also included lunch and a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour of Jethro’s BBQ Steak n’ Chop, whose parent company – Jethro’s BBQ is the single largest purchaser of pork in the state, purchasing more than 1 million pounds from Iowa farmers each year.

“The events and tours are geared toward having open and honest conversations with consumers to deepen an understanding of modern agriculture and food production in Iowa,” says Aaron Putze, APR, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) communications director.

“Through subscribers to Iowa FFP’s monthly Fresh Pickings newsletter and our social media followers, we’ve built an audience of more than 100,000 consumers – that’s roughly the equivalent of the combined population of Dubuque, Mason City and Newton,” added Putze, who helps coordinate the Iowa FFP. “We have a significant audience, and the interest in this type of program further speaks to the type of information consumers crave in learning more about how food is grown and who’s growing it.”

Participants in the first Food U came from a variety of industries, including healthcare, food banks, administrative services, communications, grocery stores, education and manufacturing.

Individuals participating in the June 28 Food U included Mark Anderson, Des Moines; Cristen Clark, Runnells; Sara Goemaat, Belmond; Kent Guthrie, Des Moines; Linda Hinzman, Cedar Rapids; Julie Kohles, Johnston; Marian Poulson, Mingo; Cindie Robinette, Des Moines; Nancy Schade, Walker; Katie Sharon, West Des Moines; Emily Shearer, Des Moines; Kristin Shelton, Huxley; Joan Studts, Marshalltown; Ann Thelen, Johnston; Christy VanBuskirk, Hedrick; Duane Visser, Marshalltown; Karen Visser, Marshalltown; Pat Voll, Des Moines; and Steven Williams, West Des Moines.

“Food U was an amazing experience. I was able to see – firsthand – the significant work, and incredible impact, Iowa farmers make across the globe,” says Emily Shearer, a participant and Iowa FFP Champion who works full-time as the Food Acquisition Coordinator for the Food Bank of Iowa.  

“Whether it was learning about how advancements in equipment technology help farmers access their farm’s processes right from their cell phones; getting a private tour through the kitchen of a local restaurant cooking locally sourced food; or seeing milk get made – from start to finish, Food U gave a great insight into the work being done all over our state. Regardless of your level of knowledge about food and farming, there was truly something for everyone.”

A second Food U event is planned for later this summer.

Launched in 2011, the Iowa FFP is supported by more than 35 partners including, but not limited to:

  • Iowa Soybean Association

  • Iowa Pork Producers Association

  • Iowa Beef Industry Association

  • Iowa Corn Growers Association

  • Iowa Egg Council

  • Iowa Turkey Federation

  • Midwest Dairy Association

  • Iowa State Fair

  • Latham Hi-Tech Seeds

  • United Soybean Board

  • AE Dairy

  • Casey’s General Store

  • DuPont Pioneer

  • Farm Credit Services of America

  • Heart of America Group (including Machine Shed Restaurant)

  • Hy-Vee, Inc.

  • Jethro’s BBQ

  • Key Cooperative

  • Live Healthy Iowa

  • Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines

  • Earl May Nursery & Garden Center

For more information about Food U and a complete list of partners, timely features, farm and food news and opportunities to get involved visit

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The Iowa Food & Family Project encourages Iowans to become more confident and trusting in agriculture and food production through community activities, educational programs and information sharing. It proudly sponsors Live Healthy Iowa and is backed by more than 35 partners including each of the participating agricultural organizations, plus restaurants and retailers throughout the state.

Funded in part by the soybean, pork, corn, beef, dairy, egg and turkey checkoffs.