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Fewer Dollars Could Tighten Farm Field Trips

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WATERLOO, Iowa - The second-floor offices of the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area is far from the actual mission field. In the heart of a city and not the acres of farmland.

"We were federally designated by the U.S. Congress in 1996 to preserve and tell the story of American agriculture," said Don Short, the group's president. "We do this through partner sites - over 100 partner sites - and we act as a facilitator to help them tell the story."

You may not be familiar with Silos & Smokestacks but you have probably visited their partner sites. Major museums in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Iowa City carry the group's seal. Yet many other attractions in rural communities, including working farms and ranches, are also included.

On September 30, federal funding expired for Silos & Smokestacks. At more than $700,000 annually, Short said the money makes up about three-quarters of the agency's budget. He said the group will not be in any immediate financial peril.

"We're still in business," Short said. "We have managed our money very, very well and we have operational funds for 2013."

Yet Short said the federal dollars they usually receive often return in the form of programming and helping take students to the sites.

"Last year, over 300 schools were recipients of our grants for kids to go out into the country and learn about agriculture," said Short. He also pointed to the organization's 2012-2013 Visitor's Guide, listing 100 attractions throughout Northeast Iowa.

Heartland Acres Agribition Center in Independence is one of those attractions. Executive Director Craig Johnson said field trips are critical for their survival.

"That funding also trickles down to places like Heartland Acres and partner sites and bringing in the schools and support that Silos & Smokestacks offers us, that's important," said Johnson.

Short said that Congress is in a six-month "continuing resolution" and that he believes this funding stoppage "will be temporary". He said their office has been in contact with Iowa's two senators and five members of Congress.

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