August 30, 2015

Drivers urged to watch for school kids, avoid distractions

School-BusMost Iowa schools are back in session and the state’s streets and sidewalks are filled with excited kids in the mornings and afternoons. Rose White, at AAA-Iowa, is cautioning drivers statewide to stay watchful for children on foot as they might suddenly dart into the road.

“AAA is urging all motorists to simply slow down and stay alert in neighborhoods and school zones,” White says, “and be especially vigilant for pedestrians before, during and after school hours.” During 2013, a national study found more than 330 child pedestrians were killed and 13-thousand were injured, with more than half of the deaths happening during the times kids were heading to and from school.

“The afternoon hours are particularly dangerous for walking children,” White says. “Over the last decade, nearly one-third of children pedestrian fatalities occurred between the hours of 3 to 7 P.M.” Speed is a big factor in saving lives. Research finds a pedestrian who’s hit by a vehicle traveling 25 miles-an-hour is two-thirds less likely to be killed than a vehicle traveling at 35.

“In Iowa, there has been a steady decline in pedestrian crashes for all ages groups, but it’s not the case for young pedestrians,” White says. “In 2013, a total of 54 young pedestrians were injured in car crashes. Tragically, three of them lost their lives.”

Another key is to eliminate distractions for drivers. White says to avoid any activities that take even one hand off the steering wheel, and avoid using your cell phone by putting it in a safe place — like the glove box — until you arrive at your destination.


Chicken and turkey producers to meet with Senator Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Iowa chicken and turkey producers who lost millions of birds to avian influenza earlier this year are meeting today with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley to discuss how best to proceed.

Some Iowa farms are restocking their populations now, though there’s the threat of new bird flu outbreaks this fall as migrating wild waterfowl head south. Grassley says he wants everyone prepared.

Grassley says, “There’s much that can be learned from experience, supply chain impacts from the sudden loss of tens of millions of birds have occurred upstream to feed suppliers and downstream to food companies and consumers.” Iowa’s egg, chicken and turkey industries lost hundreds of jobs and the state’s economy took a $1.2 billion hit from bird flu, according to a study from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Some 34 million turkeys and chickens died or were euthanized in Iowa, by far the largest losses of any state. Grassley notes, some producers were critical of the U.S.D.A.’s response. “Now, before the very real possibility of another outbreak, it’s important to have a frank discussion with producers who had boots on the ground about the response of the federal government and if anything more can be done by the Department of Agriculture or even those of us in Congress,” Grassley says.

U.S.D.A. officials have announced plans to stockpile bird flu vaccine, with the goal of delivering those vaccines within 24 hours to any poultry producers near an infected flock. Some fear, as Grassley acknowledges, that’s like shutting the barn door after the horse has already run off. “I have raised the question and haven’t had an answer yet, why stockpile? Why not vaccinate?” Grassley says. “I don’t have an answer for you but it seems to me, if you have a stockpile and you have an outbreak, what good does it do? The easiest way to vaccinate is before the chickens are put in the cages.”

This afternoon’s meeting between Grassley and producers will be held in Storm Lake.


Economist can’t predict future of beef prices

Ernie Goss

Ernie Goss

Even though much of the nation’s beef comes from our region, beef prices in Iowa grocery stores have been inching upwards for months. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says it’s hard to predict where the beef industry is going, but the recent closure of a beef slaughter plant in western Iowa may be an indicator.

“A lot of it will depend on the turnaround in the global economy,” Goss says. “Everyone is hearing about China and their problems, but Nebraska and Iowa together export about 12 to 13-billion dollars worth of food, so this is significant.” Goss says the escalation of prices isn’t just a challenge for Iowa, Nebraska or even the Midwest.

“One of the problems we’ve had recently is just the high value of the dollar makes it more difficult to export, it makes our goods less competitively priced abroad,” Goss says. “Energy and agriculture are two very important industries for this part of the country. They’ve been having a problem. A lot of it you can trace to the value of the dollar rising and also to global economic slowdown.”

Earlier this month, Tyson Foods announced the closure of its beef slaughter plant in Denison, eliminating 400 jobs. The company said those displaced workers would be considered for transfers to other Tyson plants, but Goss says it’s highly impractical. “Tyson offered these individuals that lose their jobs replacement jobs in Dakota City or Lexington,” Goss says. “The problem is, that’s a long distance. Lexington, that’s about a four-hour drive. That’s not a viable offer for most of the individuals losing their job.”

Another problem is, according to Goss, for every manufacturing job lost, another “spill-over” job is lost in an industry like retail.


Somes kids growing their own veggies for school lunch

Kids from Cowless Montessori School in Des Moines with the Swiss chard they grew at school.

Kids from Cowless Montessori School in Des Moines with the Swiss chard they grew at school.

Tens of thousands of Iowa students will be munching on locally-grown, fresh produce in their cafeterias when they head back to school this month, thanks to the Farm to School program.

Tammy Stotts, the program’s coordinator at the Iowa Department of Agriculture, says the goals include giving kids hands-on experience with fruit and vegetable gardening and connecting schools with local farmers.

“The Farm to School chapter allows those schools to create whatever it is they need, whether it’s getting growers into the schools, helping get local food into the schools and having taste tests and things like that,” Stotts says. “Some of them include gardening as their project plan. We also have a garden initiative.” While it’s not practical for every school to launch an on-site gardening project, more than 90 Iowa school do now have student-tilled gardens fenced off beside their buildings.

Stotts says it’s a great way to get healthy foods on students’ lunchroom trays, while giving them a well-rounded agricultural education. “You get your science, math, obviously the food nutrition information,” Stotts says. “We also have people that will take their students out to the garden and write poetry. It really is a great thing and allows kids to engage in the Farm to School process.” While the program is helping to develop new markets for Iowa’s farmers, it’s also opening new doors for students.

“Some kids may never try kale outside of school,” Stotts says. “If you want them to be consumers in the future who seek kale, you have to give them that exposure and let them try that. The more kids know about the impact it makes and the more they have the opportunity to try it and certainly when they have a hand at growing it, they are much more inclined to try things.”

The most popular items in the fall are typically tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. According to the U.S.D.A., there are some 460 Iowa schools with more than 180-thousand children taking part in Farm to School. October is Food to School Month, which will include Food Day on the 22nd, during which Iowa schools will serve a coordinated lunch tray with local and regional offerings.


Pet alligator gets Sioux City boy in trouble


Sioux City Animal Adoption and Rescue Center

A northwest Iowa boy’s pet alligator will soon make a trip across the Missouri River to Nebraska — secured in a cage.

The two-and-a-half foot long alligator known as Allie was purchased by the unidentified Sioux City 16-year-old from a website. He says he didn’t know it was illegal to keep such a critter as a pet in Iowa.

He put Allie up for sale, online, asking $400 for the gator, his 75-gallon aquarium, heat lamps and a water heater. That’s when the Sioux City Animal Adoption and Rescue Center took notice.

The center seized the alligator which will eventually go to the reptile lab at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska. The boy could have been fined $750, but since he cooperated fully, he won’t be charged.


Study seeks caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Steve Bonsera.

Dr. Steve Bonsera.

Hundreds of Iowans who care for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease are being sought for a study that aims to improve the lives of those caregivers — and the patients.

Dr. Steve Bonasera, a geriatrician in Omaha-Council Bluffs, says 62,000 Iowans now have Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to grow to 73,000 in just over a decade.

“Medicare is looking at the future and they realize that they’re going to be spending a lot of money on caregiving and on Alzheimer’s disease in the next 50 years,” Bonasera says. “They want to be able to spend this money as efficiently as possible and at the same time, get people the best sorts of outcomes they can.” Dr. Bonasera is a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which is among two hospitals in the nation splitting a ten-million dollar grant from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

Most family members who care for Alzheimer’s patients do so with little or no resources or training. The goal of the study is to help caregivers by lowering stress levels and providing tools needed to provide the necessary care. “Our hope is that in doing this, we will allow caregivers to feel more self-confidence, more competence in their ability to take care of their loved ones, more resilience, and to help the caregivers take better care of themselves,” Bonasera says.

As many as 900 families in Iowa and Nebraska will be enrolled in the research project. “We have very, very broad eligibility rules,” he says, “so almost all families are going to be able to probably participate.” He says if caregivers learn to cope better, patients can stay in their homes longer before moving into skilled care. As part of the study, the Dementia Care Ecosystem is a family-centered model that provides around-the-clock, online education and consultation for patients and their families.

“We’re giving them some very inexpensive off-the-shelf technology, Android watches and cell phones,” Bonasera says. “We’ve programmed them to basically measure people’s functional status.” One goal is to create a virtual care system that is supportive enough to protect the mental and physical health of caregivers.

For more information about the study, call (402) 559-6117. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts by 2050, nearly 14-million Americans over 65 will have Alzheimer’s.



Knoxville leaders weighing response to complaint about monument

Knoxville monument.

Knoxville monument.

A civil rights group is calling for the removal of a monument in southeast Iowa that honors veterans, while residents are rallying to keep the memorial in place.

The display at a Knoxville city park features the black silhouette of a kneeling soldier and a white cross.

The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State wants the cross removed. Knoxville Mayor Brian Hatch says city leaders are weighing the complaint. “We’re going to do a little research and see what our options are,” Mayor Hatch says. “We’re going to present that to council on September 8th and decide from there. We want to make sure we take the appropriate steps.”

A rally is planned next weekend at the site of the memorial in Young’s Park, which includes an American flag on a pole, a bench, and a patriotically-painted “Freedom Rock.” “We don’t want to see it taken down,” Hatch says. “I think everybody likes the monument and feels that it’s truly a monument to honor the veterans. We would like it to see it stay but we also want to be courteous of everyone and try to come to some sort of happy resolution, if there is one.”

Hatch says they’re having to walk a fine line. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve got to go through all of this,” the mayor says. “We received one complaint from one individual in town and it’s turned into this. It’s unfortunate that we’ve got to waste all of the time and energy on all of this over one complaint.”

Those organizing the rally at the park on Sunday, August 30th, want the wooden monument left alone. The Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State claims the cross, being a religious symbol, should not be on public property as it violates the First Amendment.