Congressional budget battles are putting a strain on one eastern Iowa organization. Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area has learned its federal funding is on hold -- and it's not clear when, or if, it will be reinstated.
The organization operates in 37 Eastern Iowa counties, promoting agriculture education and preservation. Its goal is to tell the story of Iowa's farmers, rural communities, and ag businesses.
Places like Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy. Six generations of Hansen's have operated the dairy farm near Hudson, and they've always opened their doors to local students.
"We just want to make sure kids know milk doesn't come from a grocery store shelf," said Jordan Hansen.
Recently the family added a creamery to its operation, and expanded from casual student visits to regular public touring hours.
"Silos has been a big part of that. They've provided workshops for us to better our tourism business. They funded our intern for us to come and work for us this summer," said Hansen.
Silos and Smokestacks offers resources for more than one hundred Eastern Iowa partners, including farms, museums, and nature areas.
"We act as a facilitator to these partner sites. They've come to know us and depend on us and to lean on us for information," said the organization's president, Don Short.
They do it on a slim budget -- about three-quarters of which comes from Congress. On September 20th, lawmakers passed a stop-gap budget, funding programs through the end of March.
"And we were under the impression we would be included in that continuing resolution," said Short.
After the ink dried, Short was surprised to learn "Silos" was left off the final draft.
"It's going to change the way we do business a little bit. But we are still going to be in business," he said.
"Silos and Smokestacks" is one of eleven National Heritage Areas which were left off the budget continuing resolution. Technically, funding for the areas themselves is not the problem -- each of these sites needs to be re-authorized by the National Park Service this year, and Congress did not appropriate funding for that evaluation
Short is hopeful lawmakers will restore temporary funding for "Silos" national authorization. He says Iowa's Congressmen are supportive of the organization, but say nothing will be done until after November's election
In the meantime, the organization has local funders who can keep most of its educational programs running. But Short said, they're taking a hard look at their grant program -- the one which provided an intern for Hansen's dairy.
"It probably will be scaled back. We don't know that it's going to be eliminated yet," said Short.
Like Short, the Hansen's are hopeful Congress will consider the benefits of "Silos and Smokestacks" for the state's ag economy and tourism industry, and put the program back in the budget soon.
"Farming is a very big part of Iowa. And we don't want that to get lost," said Hansen.
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