Thanksgiving is Here


Photo (CC 2.0) by Benn Wolfe, on Flickr

I don’t know about you but Thanksgiving just seems to focus on food. It starts with turkey for many of us and just goes on.

Which makes me ask a question. (Put your answers in the comment box.)

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?

The Extension system, and the land-grant system of universities and colleges of which Extension is a part, are involved in all aspects of food from growing it to processing, preparation, and safety. So it seemed like the perfect topic to highlight as we approach Thanksgiving. Let’s take a look at one effort.

Teresa Wiemerslage is part of the Iowa State Extension effort working to build local foods and on-farm food safety.

Iowa State has several resources that might help others with their local food efforts. These include:

She also released this article on a local foods effort:

Schools celebrate Beef Month with local beef

The smell of the grill wafted slowly down the hallways. Curious students and staff stuck their head out of classrooms, eager for lunch to arrive. “Oh my gosh,” one student exclaimed, “It smells so good!” “I’m starving!”

It was just before eleven, and the smell of the cooking burgers was delicious, distracting, and too good to be ignored.

What was the occasion for the barbecue? May is Beef Month. To celebrate, Waukon High School and Jr. High students ate local beef grilled by Allamakee County Cattlemen and food service staff on May 7.

While the afternoon went quickly and burgers easily devoured, the event took much planning and coordination. It takes a village, as they say, to bring the beef to students’ lunch trays.

Teresa Wiemerslage, food systems coordinator for ISU Extension and Outreach made the event possible.  The beef was from a cow born and raised in Allamakee County. Grant funding given to the Iowa Food Hub from USDA Farm to School and Allamakee County Community Foundation covered the cost of processing.

“We use cull beef cows for Farm to School to provide an affordable product, and we use a state-inspected locker,” said Wiemerslage. “This is the third cow we’ve sourced for schools, and the kids really seem to love it.”

Food Service Director Julie Magner was willing to buy the beef and have her staff prep it. The Allamakee County Cattleman’s Association grilled the burgers. Two beef princesses form the county helped count and serve burger patties during lunch (and one is a current student at the high school)!

“Without all of these partners, the local beef would not have been possible,” said Ashley Turk, FoodCorps service member. The district partners with the NE Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative to have Turk assist with Farm to School and garden, nutrition, and wellness education at each of its centers.

“It’s not everyday students enjoy beef from a local farm and processed at a locker in town. That money from the sale and processing stays within the county, helping fund local businesses and people. While students were enjoying a tasty lunch, they had little idea the impact their meal has on their school district,” she said.

Students had no beef with the beef on their trays. When asked what they thought of their burgers, students said, “It’s really good,” and “I wish we could have grilled burgers every day.”

To be honest, most did not answer, their mouths were too full of food. The real test of the lunch came when students went to throw away their trays. Nearly all were completely empty.  It appears there were many satisfied customers.

Magner reported that the day was the highest lunch count of the year.

The Allamakee Cattlemen hauled their grill to Postville schools the following week and Winneshiek cattlemen fired up their grills in front of Decorah high school a few days later. In the end, 3100 kids had local beef on their plates because of the efforts of these local partners.

It appears schools can be a player in the regional food system. For that change to happen, it will take a village. And, maybe one very large grill.

So as you enjoy your Thanksgiving take time to thank the farmer/grower and all the others who helped bring the food to your table. And give a shout-out for those such as Teresa who help make it happen. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shopping Small, Shopping Local

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Much is being said and written about Small Business Saturday, Nov 28th. It’s a time to celebrate small businesses and what they mean to our communities and our economies. It’s also a time to recognize how much we, as individuals depend on them.

So on Sat, Nov 28th, head to your small businesses for holiday shopping. As this article from the Small Business Administration notes, an estimated 88 million people did that last year. Let’s go for 100 million or more.

And take the time leading up to then to include it in your social media posts. Post about the unique products others can find or places to eat. And check out the posts from others. Maybe you will find that hidden gem you have always wanted. untitled2

So what are you waiting for???


PS – Remember that shopping small does not need to be just a once a year event.  Make it a daily habit. 

Cyber Security and Your Small Business – Part 2

Mary Peabody, Univ of Vermont, and Steve Hancock, Cornell, offer more tips on how small businesses can keep their online data secure. 

In this episode, Mary and Steve discuss how to protect your customers. Businesses need to build trust with clients. It is that trust which then allows the client to provide his or her credit card and personal information when you ask.

There are four strategies a small business owner can use to build such trust:

  1. Have and follow a privacy policy
  2. Know the data you are collecting. What is it? How will you use it? How are you storing it? Who has access?
  3. Keep what you need and delete what you don’t.
  4. Protect the information.

It is not uncommon to hear business owners express concern about the perceived cost of keeping data secure. That cost is made up of two things, software and time.

The software can often be obtained for free. Companies are increasingly will to share it as data security is in everyone’s interest.

As Mary identifies, there will be time involved. Yet the time spent upfront will be much less than what would be spent should a data breach occur. And it is not only the issue of fixing the data breach but the time and energy you will spend in re-establishing trust with your clients. Recovery is much more expensive than time up front.

Another thing business owners can do is to help their customers stay safe when online. A tip sheet was provided that business owners might share with their customers as a place to start.

As a business owner, you want your customers to feel comfortable in engaging with you and your website. Take the time and make the effort to ensure your work does not disappear because of an online security lapse.

Social Media: An Effective Tool for Rural Businesses

This week’s blog information comes from work done by Dr. James Barnes and Dr. Katlyn Coatney, both of Mississippi State University. They are working to look at how online marketing tools can be effectively used by rural, small agribusinesses. Part of the work of Dr. Barnes includes examining how Facebook ads can be included in the marketing mix.  All of this work is part of  the Mississippi Bricks to  Clicks program

social media channels

Photo (CC) by mkhmarketing, on Flickr

It’s no longer should  you use online marketing, it is how soon can you start.

The idea of online marketing is not new to any business owner.  If the owner isn’t already doing it, they have probably been approached by someone encouraging them to start.  Just in their daily lives, business owners see the idea in action as they go online themselves or even pick up a newspaper or magazine and see advertisements directing them to an online site.

If you look at the data, more and more businesses have begun to include use of online marketing in their overall marketing strategy. Somewhat research finds that businesses in rural places and agribusinesses have been somewhat slower in instituting such practices. To encourage business owners, Drs. Barnes and Coatney have authored a case study, The Economic Value of Social Media Advertising on Mississippi Agribusiness: The Case of MG Farms, Inc. 

Through their work with MG Farms, it was possible to show the economic benefit of using Facebook and Facebook advertising as a marketing tool. Focusing on an upcoming sale, MG Farms made an effort to increase the number of people who liked their Facebook page and who became engaged users during a three-month period.

Such likes and engagement forms a valuable intangible asset for a business.  In the case of MG Farms, that value was worth around $122,000.

Yet Facebook and Facebook ads also had tangible benefits to the business. When the sale was held, attendance increased by 20 percent and gross revenues increased by 33 percent, both based on 2015 as compared to 2014. The social media effort was the only thing MG Farms changed during the year.

The cost for MG Farms for the advertisements was only $735 thus making for a strong return on investment.

The report from Drs. Barnes and Coatney provides a research on the effectiveness of social media marketing for rural businesses. If done with guidance on its effective use, it has the potential for substantially growing your bottom line.