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      Fairfield sixth graders get their hands dirty learning sustainability

      Congressman Dave Loebsack listens to students' ideas on sustainability and farming.

      Fairfield Middle School students got a chance to show off what they've learned about farming and sustainability to a heartland lawmaker.

      Mr. Klehm's sixth grade class told Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa's Second Congressional District about their seed sharing program, where the students save seeds from pumpkins or watermelons to plant later, and the importance of homegrown food.

      Mr. Klehm told the crowded classroom Monday that the project is a way for the kids to get their hands dirty - literally - planting seeds and seeing first-hand the benefits of growing their own food.

      In February, the students will each grow their own plants, which they will then take to the greenhouses at the high school and take them home during the summer.

      The idea of teaching students the benefits of homegrown food early in their education could sustain and support schools across the state.

      "Doing everything we can to grow food locally and bring it to the table, not only at home, but at the schools as well," said Congressman Loebsack. "I think it's a really great idea, it's great for the local economy, it's great for the health of the kids as well and I strongly support these programs, as you might imagine."

      Hometown Harvest of Southeast Iowa recently received a $100,000 grant from the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to help projects just like this one. Hometown Harvest supports growing, selling and buying locally.

      "We're trying to just make the total transformation of what used to be in schools and a lot of things coming pre-packaged to much more fresh and much more local," said Jan Swinton, local food coordinator with Hometown Harvest. "We think it's going to make a big difference in the local economy as well as people get get used to buying and selling to and from the schools and get more locally done farming available."

      Congressman Loebsack said too few politicians in Washington recognize the importance of local food and sustainability and it is one thing he is working to change.

      Swinton said that eventually, cooperation between students, farmers, schools and lunch ladies will form a network to develop local growing and selling. The students' work is a great step towards the cooperation.