Scott Koepke of New Pioneer Food Co-op's Soilmates gives a demonstration at Hoover Elementary in Iowa City. (photo/New Pioneer Food Co-op)

Scott Koepke of New Pioneer Food Co-op’s Soilmates gives a demonstration at Hoover Elementary in Iowa City. (photo/New Pioneer Food Co-op)

IOWA CITY – Scott Koepke lights up when he talks about his work.

“Look at those faces,” he said, pointing to a photo of school children fully absorbed in his presentation about composting, his full-time endeavor.

Koepke has been helping schools in the Iowa City area start gardens in his role as New Pioneer Food Co-op’s Soilmates organic garden educator.

New Pi has donated seed money to give the gardens a good start, along with Koepke’s expertise. Here is more about Soilmates, from New Pi:

Scott Koepke of New Pi’s Soilmates is running around from elementary schools to colleges to eco fairs, and beyond. “Interest in rediscovering nature’s classroom has exploded,” says Scott.

Scott was at Kirkwood’s Environmental Fair last Wednesday and NewBo’s Eco-Fest Saturday. This week he was at ACT’s Environmental Fair Tuesday and ECO Iowa City at the East Side Recycling Center on Wednesday and will be at the Johnson County Health & Human Services (giving compost demonstrations for business) at noon Thursday. On Saturday, he’ll help kick off the downtown Iowa City Farmer’s Market season with his popular kid-friendly worm and compost activities.

Last year, New Pi saw a need for assistance starting school gardens, and stepped up to do just that. Now, twenty schools in the area are starting gardens with New Pi’s garden grants. “It’s pretty amazing to have gone from a handful of school gardens a few years ago, to now almost an entire district,” says Scott. Most, if not all, of these schools attended Scott’s presentation at Farm to School’s School Garden Workshop on Feb. 5. Scott’s advice for educational gardens? “Start small, then get smaller. You can always expand next year!”

New Pi’s Soilmates new Seed Money Initiative (educational garden grant) recipients in spring 2013: City High, Garner, Grant Wood, Hills, Hoover, ICCSD Transition Services Center, Johnson School of the Arts, Kirkwood Elementary, Lemme, Lincoln, Meskwaki Settlement School, NW Junior High, Shimek, UI School of the Wild, SE Junior High, Summit School, Tate High, Weber, West High, and Willowwind. Each of these schools received a $500 grant to start educational gardens from New Pioneer Food Co-op.

New Pioneer Cooperative Society was founded as a natural foods cooperative grocer in Iowa City in 1971, and opened its Coralville branch in 2001. Today, New Pi is a thriving two-store food co-op with over 28,000 members. The stores provide local, organic, and natural foods to the Iowa City and Coralville area. New Pi is located at 22 S. Van Buren St. in Iowa City and at 1101 2nd St. in Coralville. Please visit for more information.