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Luther's Stumme-Diers connecting farmers and consumers

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 01/24/2013 12:41 PM

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —As Luther College's sustainable foods educator, Maren Stumme-Diers spends her days helping students, faculty and staff connect to the food they eat.

She coordinates activities at the college farm where 25 faculty and staff members have garden plots and students grow one acre of vegetables that are used by the cafeteria.

She oversees two edible landscapes on central campus. One is an off-vine garden near the science building. Students and staff can pick vegetables to snack on or take home. There were heirloom cherry tomatoes, mini-bell peppers, lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, herbs and ground cherries.

"A Walk Around the World Garden Diversity Garden" had vegetable varieties representing the five regions of the world.

"We value diversity in our student population, and see it as important in agriculture," Stumme-Diers said. "The origin of many of our favorite foods isn't here. We rely upon plants and seeds that were brought here."

The gardens allow people to interact with food production on a daily basis. Faculty use the gardens as part of their classes.

She works with Luther Dining Services on local food procurement.

"Our goal is to source 35 percent of our food from within a day's drive of campus by May 2013," Stumme-Diers said. "We also like food that is healthy and sustainably produced."

The college is developing food purchasing guidelines for each food category — beef, pork, poultry, dairy, fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes — and hopes to launch the guidelines this summer.

Luther Dining Services is at 52 percent local food purchases from June 4 to early December.

"The bulk of that is beef, pork and dairy," Stumme-Diers said.

Luther buys 1,000 pounds of yogurt each week from Country View Dairy at Hawkeye. Skim milk, cheese curds, soft serve mix and hard ice cream come from WW Homestead Dairy at Waukon.

All hamburger patties come from Grass Run Farms based at Dorchester. Honey is purchased from Grown Locally, a coopertive of 25 producers in northeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota. The college went through a production planning process with cooperative growers. Stumme-Diers sees it as a model that could work for others.

She also works with Teresa Weimerslage, who coordinates the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition through NIFF. Stumme-Diers will oversee 20 school gardens with Food Corps and Americorps volunteers and local volunteers to provide "the boots on the ground."

She grew up in southeast Wisconsin and graduated from Luther College with degrees in environmental studies and Spanish. She is working on an online master's degree in sustainable food systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont.

"I do the work I do because if the Midwest can't figure out, I'm not sure who can because we have such a rich resource base as far as human wisdom about growing food and raising animals and being good stewards of the land," she said.

Stumme-Diers, who took part in the recent Windridge Implements/Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness bus trip to the Great Lakes Expo, hoped to connect with other producers.

"I'm hoping for one or two good ideas and some conversations along the way," she said.