Aaron is a fifth-generation family farmer from rural Polk County, where he and his family raise corn, soybeans, oats, and hay in both organic and conventional rotations. Aaron was elected to serve as the IFU president in 2016 and had served as the IFU vice president immediately prior to his election. He also has served as the executive director and legislative director for IFU and on the National Farmers Union Policy Committee. Aaron’s father Phil is a past IFU vice president and board member, and Aaron was active in Farmers Union youth programs growing up. Aaron is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and Treasurer of the North Polk School Foundation. He is a graduate of North Polk High School in Alleman, Iowa and earned a bachelor’s degree in physcis from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Aaron has previously served on the North Polk School District Board of Directors, the Iowa Citizen Action Network Board of Directors, and various school and church communities. He is a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Iowa chapter of the National Farmers Organization.

Click here for information about Aaron Lehman.

Click here to see more about Aubrey Alvarez's work with Eat Greater Des Moines.

Click here to see more about Campbell's Nutrition.

Please tell us a little bit about your background.

I was the youngest of four children raised on a dairy farm in north central Iowa in the prairie pothole region. After raising two children of my own, when my children left for college, I did the same and earned my law degree from the University of Iowa College of Law in 2013. My parents were progressive about conservation and land ethics. From them, I absorbed my passion for policy that protects land and water.

What is your current role/organization?

I am External Affairs Manager for Des Moines Water Works. I oversee public relations, government affairs, outreach and collaboration, and special projects for the office of the CEO. Our utility provides drinking water to the Des Moines metropolitan region including four counties and 500,000 customers which is one-sixth of Iowa’s population.

How is your organization’s/your own personal work linked to food, energy and/or water systems in Iowa?

On its face, it may seem like an unlikely point of intersection for Des Moines Water Works, but land use in our watersheds—including in and near our service area—have great impact on our source water.  The water we draw from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers snakes its way to our treatment plant through hundreds of miles of land that is heavily-row cropped with corn and soybeans. Within 50 miles of Des Moines (plus hundreds of miles upstream) there are thousands of acres under development and also being farmed that impact water quality. Education and outreach to stakeholders--telling our story about the challenges associated with providing drinking water that meets regulatory standards—is a powerful tool for driving change.

What variables do you think the team should definitely consider?

Current federal and state policy related to food production must include a larger role for social science and also strategic communication. Entrenched behavior and beliefs about food production and a drive to maintain the status quo will be difficult to crack. Offsite impacts of food production on downstream users are not well understood by all stakeholders. 

What are some outcomes you would like to see for this project?

Success, to me, would be demolishing the silo around food production. It is critical that stakeholders understand and own offsite impacts to downstream users. Our rivers, lakes, streams, and public spaces should be appealing for recreation, habitat, public health, and drinking water production. Sustainable food production is good for consumers, producers, and the environment. Climate change and the associated upheavals to water quality and quantity necessitate science-based, integrated solutions. UrbanFEWS seems to tie all of this together.

Click here to see more about Jeremy Caron's initiatives with sustainability in the City of Des Moines.


Are there particular weaknesses in local food-energy-water systems that you think the Iowa UrbanFEWS project should explore?

We lack infrastructure to enable local food producers to scale up production to be sustainable economically. In particular, food processing and packaging, transportation and marketing.


What type of direct or indirect impacts do you think this project could have on food systems in Iowa, and in particular in the Des Moines Area?

Elevate the interest and support by policy makers to make local food production an economic development priority for our state.


What do you think are significant obstacles or impediments to better integration of F-E-W systems in Iowa?

Cultural food purchasing practices, recognition of the value and societal benefit of locally produced food, and the chicken vs. egg dilemma of scaling up production vs. increasing demand. 

Click here for more information about John Norris.


In your opinion, what are some of the defining characteristics of urban food systems in central Iowa right now?

 If I may be permitted the pun, they are few and far between. What I see is a disjointed and less than fully effective approach.  Too many opportunities with too few people taking advantage of them.


What type of direct or indirect impacts do you think this project could have on food systems in Iowa, and in particular in the Des Moines Area?

I hope this makes urban food production much more well understood and more regularly undertaken.

Click here to learn more about Jonathan Gano's initiatives with the City of Des Moines.

Dr.Stefanik’s expertise is in wetland ecology and aquatic biogeochemistry.  She has studied gaseous carbon cycling and vegetation succession in created and restored wetlands, as well as nitrogen and phosphorus transport through watersheds in the Ohio River Basin.


How is your organization’s/your own personal work linked to food, energy and/or water systems in Iowa?

The Iowa Nutrient Research Center’s purpose is to pursue a science-based approach to evaluating the performance and development of nutrient management practices in the agricultural landscape.


What type of direct or indirect impacts do you think this project could have on food systems in Iowa, and in particular in the Des Moines Area?

Potential impacts on the Des Moines area could include increased local food production (less corn/soybean in urban adjacent agriculture), better coupling the needs of Iowans with the food production potential of Iowa. There could also be the potential to redirect biosolid application to local food production to help keep nutrients local.  While beyond the scope of this project, I would love to see city run farmland that not only helps to source fresh produce to local, low-income areas, but also provides educational and employment opportunities for Des Moines residents.


What are some outcomes you would like to see for this project?

Advice for city planners in the form of an extension style document that highlights main model findings and strategies that could be utilized by both larger and smaller urban areas.  Extension style document for farmers that provide information on the food production needs of urban area and resources for transitioning farmland from standard rowcrop to vegetable production. Undergraduate and graduate level course material on city planning that highlights the importance of localized and linked food availability, waste reuse, and water quality. Undergraduate and graduate level agricultural course material on farm production needs of Iowa’s urban areas.

Click here for more information about Kay Stefanik.


How is your organization’s/your own personal work linked to food, energy and/or water systems in Iowa? 

I think that we sometimes talk in abstract terms about the environment.  Yes, we want clean air and water, healthy soils, nutritious food.   How can we accomplish this goal on an individual level?  If we want to grow our local food market, reduce food miles, and farm sustainably we have to support the producers in our community.  Marketing products is often a hurdle for local producers because their work producing food can be all consuming. Our goal is to help producers reach consumers more easily thus eliminating one of the possible barriers to success.  We want our consumers and producers to interact thus  promoting an  understanding and appreciation for the foods that nurture us.  The Iowa Food Cooperative is a food community that supports sustainable agriculture and local food by facilitating connection.


In your opinion, what are some of the defining characteristics of urban food systems in central Iowa right now?  

Covid has changed everything.  We have had a first hand look at the vulnerability of our national food  system.  Local foods are more important than ever, at the Iowa Food Cooperative our business has doubled. More people are seeking out easy access to local foods. This moment in time is a grand opportunity for outreach and education. 


Are there particular weaknesses in local food-energy-water systems that you think the Iowa UrbanFEWS project should explore? 

We  lack the infrastructure to support our local farmers.  We do not have processing facilities that will operate on a small scale.  Our small scale poultry farmers have very few options for processing their products in a nation that is dominated by 4 industrial meat processing companies.  


What are some outcomes you would like to see for this project?

Education - over the years folks have become disconnected from the source of their food.  Producing food that is healthy with methods that are kind to the environment is challenging and it can be costly.  If we want to have a better environment and healthy food we need to understand the inputs  and embrace the farmers that are doing things the right way and help make their lives a bit easier by  buying their products and pushing for better infrastructure in our local communities. 

Click here for more informationon Lisa Bean.

Matt Helmers is the Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, the Dean’s Professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and a Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University, where he has been on the faculty since 2003. Dr. Helmers’ research areas include studies on the impact of nutrient management, cropping practices, drainage design and management, and strategic placement of buffer systems on nutrient export from agricultural landscapes. He has a regional Extension program working to increase adoption of practices that have the potential to reduce downstream nutrient export.

Click here for more information about Matt Helmers.

Sally Worley joined Practical Farmers of Iowa staff in the fall of 2007, after being a member of the organization for a few years.  She became the executive director February 1, 2016. Before that Sally worked in multiple positions at Practical Farmers, including: communications director, next generation and horticulture director, deputy director and operations director.

Sally works to ensure Practical Farmers is farmer-led and maintains its big tent, welcoming everyone into the organization. She oversees PFI’s staffing, finances and programming, and is the primary liaison with the board of directors.

Click here for more information about Sally Worley.


What are some outcomes you would like to see for this project?

More comprehensive data is needed to effectively plan a sustainable regional food network. This should include available acres, capital and operating cost estimates for various crops, summaries of sources of financial assistance, and other data to assess the need and potential within a region.


Based on your work and your knowledge of urban F-E-W systems or their individual components, do you know of other places that are examples of success in terms of sustainable outcomes?

Indoor greenhouses offer several advantages, particularly as climate change impacts Midwest weather patterns. A number of energy and water efficiency features can be included in greenhouse design and the Bushel Boys tomato facility ( in Minnesota is an example of a high-tech production facility. 

Click here for more information about Shelly Peterson's sustainable energy involvement with the Iowa Economic Development Authority.