Service-learning Benefits Local Food Growers

Amy Diestler ’14 works hard to ensure that healthy food means healthy business for area growers. Her efforts to make locally grown produce more available and affordable caught the attention of civic engagement coalition Campus Compact, which has named her one of its 162 Newman Civic Fellows in 2012.

By fostering relationships between local growers and food purchasers like Wal-Mart, the Brown County Health Department, UW-Extension, the Green Bay School District, Sysco Foods and St. Norbert, Diestler has helped growers expand their sales, increasing the amount of local produce sold in the area.

The junior from Janesville, Wis., focuses on helping Hmong growers hone their business skills so they can sell their products to local grocers. She also has educated more than 500 households and 2,000 students about hunger relief through canned food collections, informational posters and poverty simulations. 

Diestler’s work stems from her involvement in the college’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) team, one of the factors that led her to St. Norbert in the first place. During her college search, she says, “I started looking at student groups and saw [St. Norbert] had a business-student group, and I said, ‘Great, this is perfect!’ ” 

For Diestler, the difficulties small businesses face strike a chord with her own family life. “My dad owns a small business,” she says, “so I’ve seen both sides of it.”

Her own experience with her father’s company helps her appreciate “how hard it is for a small business to get out there,” she says.

Diestler cites her own dedication to healthy living as a driving force behind her project, which aims to combat the belief that eating healthy is too expensive. By encouraging local growers to work directly with area companies, Diestler seeks to lower the cost of healthy foods while allowing growers to find their economic footing.

Her decision to focus on Hmong families stemmed from SIFE’s connections with the local Hmong community. Diestler quickly realized that her interest intersected well with the needs of many local Hmong food growers. 

Diestler was surprised by the willingness of some of the companies – particularly Wal-Mart – to participate in the program and work with local growers. “It’s interesting that they are taking such a good stance on that,” she says.

Diestler sees her experiences through SIFE as a building block toward her future. She says she would like to continue this kind of work after she graduates.