Iowa Foods ‘Champion’ Praised for Tireless Work
Community College Graduate Started Thriving Garden Club
It began early on a Friday morning harvesting vegetables as a farmhand at Honey Hill Organic Farm in Potosi, Wis., where she worked all day before heading to volunteer at the Dubuque Rescue Mission garden to weed, plant and cut the lawn, her hands covered in callouses.
Then, it was home to prepare a presentation to deliver the next day at the Driftless Farm and Food Fest. The festival featured tours of local farms and information on issues relating to the future of farming and resources to expand healthy food options and garden education in the tri-state area.
Donnan said too many people today are disconnected from their food and don't understand the impact that food production and distribution systems have on the environment and public health.
“It's important because it’s good for our economy, it’s good for our people and it's good for ourselves,” she said. “Instead of valuing products that are coming from across the economy, you’re valuing the people and the food that is closest to you, and that's ultimately the most sustainable thing you can do.”
Donnan, 27, helped launch a community garden as a student at Northeast Iowa Community College. Donnan, who graduated from NICC in May, gathered a few students and administrators in March 2014 after taking a School Garden 101 course through Dubuque County Iowa State University Extension & Outreach.
The group started a garden club and constructed nine raised beds and two in-ground perennial beds with edible landscaping and pollinator plants, along with eight apple trees. Students harvest 100 or more pounds of produce per year. The vegetables are picked two or three times per week and used in the NICC kitchen for meals on campus. Extra produce is given to students and faculty.
Early the next morning, Sept. 10, Donnan woke before sunrise to open the Dubuque Farmers Market. As on-site manager, Donnan implements the market's new Double Up Food Bucks program for eligible Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients. The incentive program matches the value of federal nutrition benefits spent at the market to purchase additional fresh, locally grown produce.
The program aims to help low-income families eat healthier food while providing new customers for local farmers, said Carolyn Scherf, local foods coordinator for Dubuque County ISU Extension & Outreach.
Donnan works with vendors and SNAP recipients to make sure the program is being implemented effectively.
After closing the farmers market Sept. 10, she was off to give her presentation. The next day she returned to the festival to bartend at the Driftless Farm to Table Dinner.
“She is a champion in the sustainable agriculture scene in Dubuque,” Scherf said. “She has dedicated her life to living by these food values that she has. And she recognizes that a lot of people want to eat in a certain way that meshes well with their values, but can't because of financial and other barriers, and is dedicated to reducing those barriers for everybody.”
Ashley Neises, garden manager at Dubuque Rescue Mission, said the area’s burgeoning local food scene could use more people like Donnan, who is also a chef.
“As a community member, she's a valuable asset because she gets both sides _ from the farm to fork,” Neises said. “She's in both worlds _ from growing it on the farm, to marketing it, to producerconsumer relations, to selling it and preparing it in the kitchen _ which is a huge asset. She's a connector and conduit for community members to get engaged with local foods.
“And she'll do it whether she gets paid or not, which is a litmus test for how serious she is about this,” she said.