Audience sitting at CERA

Prairie Studies Events

Local Storytellers Will Be Featured in a Production of Farm-to-Fork Tales

The performance, Food & Farming Stories Around the World, will include storytellers from Iowa with roots in a variety of countries including Mexico, Sierra Leone, Honduras, Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, and Sicily. This event will be held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2–4 p.m. in the Humanities and Social Studies Center, N1164.

The sometimes funny and sometimes poignant stories will include tales of food and farming viewed through diverse lenses.

Farm-to-Fork Tales is one of the recent projects of Mary Swander, Poet Laureate of Iowa, 2009–19. Swander, of rural Kalona, is the author of prize-winning books and plays related to agriculture, food, and rural communities, including a drama on farmland transition and one featuring stories of recent immigrant farmers in the Midwest.

She has also founded AgArts, a nonprofit which connects artists with producers through week-long residencies. AgArts imagines and promotes healthy food systems through the arts.

Farm-to-Fork Tales features area storytellers, coached by Swander or her professional story coach.

Swander will also tell a story, invite the audience to respond with comments or tales of their own, and will put the narratives in the context of the larger food movement.

The unique sound of drums from the Ivory Coast will add to the afternoon event, and light refreshments will be provided by the Grinnell College Global Kitchen.

This  event is made possible by the Center for Prairie Studies and Swander Woman Productions, and is free and open to the public. If you are an individual with a disability and need accommodations, please contact Conference Operations, 641-269-3235. Minors under the age 18 need to be accompanied by an adult. Grinnell College is not responsible for supervision of minors on campus.

Call for Student Art Projects, Proposals Due Feb. 14

The Center for Prairie Studies (CPS) is interested in commissioning student artistic projects inspired by and created in conversation with the prairie region and our locality.

Proposals will be reviewed by a panel of CPS board members, which will commission three works for showcasing at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) late in the spring semester as a part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Each of the three selected proposals will receive a $300 commission and when completed will become part of the center’s collection. 

Submit your proposal by Feb. 14, 2020.

boxes of fresh vegetables at a farmers' market

Local Foods Symposium, Oct. 29–31

Location: Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101
Dates and Times:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 29
    • 4:15 p.m. opening presentation
    • 7:30 p.m. panel discussion
  • Wednesday, Oct. 30
    • 4:15 p.m. panel discussion
    • 7:30 p.m. panel discussion
  • Thursday, Oct. 31
    • 6 p.m. local foods dinner and closing presentation

What can Grinnell College and the Grinnell community do to create a more robust local food system?  Several participants in Grinnell’s local foods movement, bookended by two Grinnell College alumni who live elsewhere and work in the areas of sustainability and food systems, will address this question in a symposium sponsored by the College’s Center for Prairie Studies on October 29, 30, and 31. All events will be held in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

The virtues of eating food produced near where you live are well-known:

  • The food is fresher and often tastes better.
  • In some cases it is more nutritious.
  • It is not shipped long distances, saving energy.
  • You know (or at least can easily find out) where your food comes from and how it was produced.
  • Your purchase supports farmers in your area and promotes regional economic vitality. 

At the same time, the industrial food system has been critiqued on a number of points: 

  • It is controlled by a small number of national and multinational corporations whose main purpose is to make a profit.
  • It is subsidized by the government (hence by taxpayers) in various ways.
  • It is connected to a host of environmental problems, including great dependence on fossil fuels.
  • It has also been linked to a variety of social problems, including unhealthy diets and social justice concerns. 

Many observers believe that the industrial food system as presently constituted is unsustainable.

Despite this balance sheet, shifting toward a more local food system entails significant challenges.  The participants in this symposium will address the current state of the college’s and town’s local food system and the possibilities for creating a more robust local food system in our community, within the context of moving toward a more sustainable way of living on this planet. 

Tuesday, Oct. 29

At 4:15 p.m., Alex Reich ’11 will give the opening presentation, “The Whole World is a Farm: Individual Stewardship Amidst a Global Challenge.”  Reich majored in biology, helped start EcoHouse, and ran cross country and track. After graduating he spent a year in the Arctic on a Watson Fellowship, learning about how Arctic indigenous peoples were adapting to climate change, as seen through food. In 2013, with his brother Henry (’09) and father Peter, he started MinuteEarth, a science/sustainability education YouTube channel that has over 2 million subscribers and 250 million views to date. Reich holds an master’s in natural resources science and management from the University of Minnesota.

At 7:30 p.m. a group of panelists will address the current state of Grinnell’s local food system. The panelists include local farmer Jordan Scheibel ’09, Middle Way Farm; local farmer Ann Brau, Compass Plant CSA; Assistant Director of Dining Services Laura Kaiser; and Harriet Dickey-Chasins ’82, the coordinator of Grinnell Farm-to-Table, an online local food marketplace. 

Wednesday, Oct. 30

At 4:15 p.m. a second panel will address the potential for growing the Grinnell local foods system. Panelists include local farmer Andrew Dunham, Grinnell Heritage Farm; local farmer Kerri Olson, Olson Garden Market; Director of Dining Services Jeanette Moser; and Laurel Tuggle Lacina ’13, director of Grinnell Local Foods Connection, a nonprofit organization working to increase local food accessibility to families and individuals with limited means.

At 7:30 p.m. a third panel will consider the efforts of various student organizations at Grinnell College to advocate for and promote sustainable agriculture and access to healthy food within the College and community. The groups represented will include Community Meal, Farm House, Food Recovery Network, Grinnell College Garden, Grinnell Intersectional Vegans, and Student Environmental Committee. 

Thursday, October 31

At 6 p.m. a local foods dinner will be catered by Dining Services and several guest chefs. The dinner is free but tickets will be required and are available through the Center for Prairie Studies or at the earlier events in the symposium.

Following the local foods dinner, Brandi Petersen Janssen ’98 will give the closing presentation. Janssen is director of the Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the author of Making Local Food Work: The Challenges and Opportunities of Today’s Small Farmers (2017, University of Iowa Press).  The title of Janssens’s presentation is “The Goldilocks Challenge: Getting Supply, Demand, and Scale Just Right in Local Food.”

Thomas Dean

A Conversation with Thomas Dean, co-author of Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit

Thursday, Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 209

What is the “spirit” of a place, a landscape? In the case of the prairie — the subject of Dean’s book — the question is especially poignant because of the rampant destruction of the prairie ecosystem that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries to make way for agriculture. Remnants of prairie remain throughout the Midwest and speak to us of that loss, but also of diversity, healing, restoration, and hope.

Thomas Dean and co-author Cindy Crosby set out to explore and identify — through words and photographs – the “prairie spirit” that continues to animate this place. Dean will discuss how the book Tallgrass Conversations came together, including how the idea of “conversations” informs the project; read selections from the book; and share photos that accompany the short writings, including images from Grinnell College’s Conard Environmental Research Area.

Dean’s and Crosby’s purpose in this book is to inspire new understandings of the Midwestern tallgrass prairie. Tallgrass Conversations encourages looking and listening to the prairie through the heart and mind as well as eyes, ears, and other senses, advancing both conservation and creative efforts on behalf of the tallgrass prairie. It is a fresh look at how to best learn to live with the tallgrass prairie, or anywhere you call home.

Thomas Dean is senior presidential writer/editor at the University of Iowa, where he also teaches interdisciplinary courses and teaches regularly in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. He has published essays in regional and national journals, (including Rootstalk), magazines, and books, including the essay collection he edited, The Grace of Grass and Water: Writing in Honor of Paul Gruchow (Ice Cube Press), and his book of personal essays, Under a Midland Sky (Ice Cube Press).

If you are an individual with a disability and need accommodations, please contact Conference Operations, 641-269-3235. Minors under the age 18 need to be accompanied by an adult. Grinnell College is not responsible for supervision of minors on campus.

Farewell Reception for Elizabeth Hill

Thursday, September 5, 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Noyce Science Center Greenhouse

After six years of dedicated service to the Department of Biology, the Center for Prairie Studies, and Grinnell College, Elizabeth Hill (CERA manager and CPS outreach coordinator) will be leaving us for a new job and new opportunities in Iowa City. We invite everyone to join us.

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