This article originally appeared in the Iowa State Daily on Nov. 17, 2017:
Wednesday night marks the final official listening session for Iowa State’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
Ever since the center was defunded by the state government in May, there have been several public discussion sessions to see what the future for the Leopold Center holds.
Director Mark Rasmussen said the listening sessions have held several purposes.
“It’s to keep the center on people’s mind,” Rasmussen said. “It’s allowed the public to participate and make comments.”
The public forums allow the Iowa State community and beyond to bring up their own suggestions and commentary on the situation.
“We have tried to encourage people to focus on the future and where do we go from here as opposed to what has happened in the past,” Rasmussen said.
The main concern regarding the sessions and the Leopold Center as a whole is funding.
“I’m not optimistic given the state’s budget issues,” Rasmussen said. “We need to look elsewhere.”
But one major aspect of the listening sessions is so the public can have a say in those decisions.
“With funding and staff reductions, we have got to narrow our priorities to what’s most important,” Rasmussen said. ” We didn’t want to simply make that decision, we wanted to hear from people and what they think.”
Along with Rasmussen, a task force of eleven volunteers have been helping out with the listening sessions. The group is made up of volunteers from around Iowa. They come from a variety of backgrounds – some are farmers, some are sustainability advocates and some are business owners.
However, there is one student representative on the task force. That student is Vice President of the student body Cody Smith.
Smith was in a meeting with president-elect Wendy Wintersteen and Associate Dean David Acker when Wintersteen got the call that the center was not going to be receiving any more money from the state government.
“It was very unfortunate from the beginning that the Leopold Center was defunded, I think most people can agree on that,” Smith said.
After the state funding was cut, a call for volunteers was sent out and that is how the task force was formed. Smith said he wanted to join because of his passions for sustainability and agriculture. Since the center is run through Iowa State, he thought it would be important for there to be a students voice on the force as well.
For the future, Smith wants to focus on structuring the center in a way that doesn’t pit agriculture and sustainability against each other.
“The whole purpose of the center is to find a way for those to work cohesively and partner together as we go into the future of the state of Iowa and the agriculture industry as whole through the United States and the world,” Smith said.
Looking ahead, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean has to make a report back to the State Senate on the previous legislature in January. Rasmussen said this report will speak on the downsizing consolidations and financial accommodations that have happened since then.
Rasmussen did not disclose his personal views on the future for the center, but says the advisory board has not discussed it at any extent yet and that the process will start after the listening sessions are over.
“Everybody has different opinions on what should be done, so it’s going to be a big task for the task force to come together in the next couple of weeks and figure out what needs to be done and where the resources are best spent,” Smith said.