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Try Pie Bakery opens storefront location on Saturday in Waterloo

WATERLOO – It took about a year to raise the dough, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Try Pie Bakery will roll out the grand opening of its new storefront at 522 Mulberry St.

On the menu: Freshly baked mini pies with perfectly crimped edges — apple, peach-blackberry, cherry, pumpkin praline and apple-pear-cranberry, to name a few — and ice cream scoops for going a la mode, Sidecar coffee and whole frozen pies to take and bake at home.

Try Pie Bakery is more than a pie shop. It is a nonprofit teen employment program that gives young women from area high schools their first job opportunity. Kitchen experience is served up with a classroom curriculum that includes financial and job skills, building relationships and faith-based components, said Megan Tensen, who co-directs the program with Sarah Helleso.

“Our mission statement is ‘Empowering teen girls in life and leadership skills through meaningful work.’ They gain employment experience and get paid, but they also learn core values and build friendships with girls they work with,” Tensen explained.

Having a storefront will add customer service to the girls’ skill set, said Helleso. “They’ll be able to meet the people who are buying and eating their pies.”

Try Pie Bakery was established in 2013, a youth development program of LINK CCD, the partnership between Orchard Hill and Harvest Vineyard churches. One of its goals is developing youth employment opportunities.

UPDATE: Rolling out faith and friendship

CEDAR FALLS — Katahvia Glasper and Imari Davis have both baked before, with their grandmothers, mostly. Since being hired at Try Pie, they now help bake dozens of pies in an afternoon.

While brainstorming entrepreneurial ideas, Tensen and Helleso and their group of interested girls were told “what we need here is home-baked pie.” Research led to a similar program in Minneapolis, but a scheduled trip to the Cookie Cart was canceled. Instead, the group wound up in a pie-making class with a professional baker and caterer in Des Moines.

“It was a pivotal experience. She taught us how to make a good pie crust, which is harder than you might think. We still use that recipe today, and she shared her recipe for cherry pie which we still use,” Tensen noted.

For the last five years, the bakery has worked out of the Orchard Hill Church kitchen in Cedar Falls. As demand grew, so did the need for space. Try Pie established a fund with the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa to raise $50,000 for a storefront operation, said Helleso.

One substantial gift in particular, from the Gary, Becky, Eric and Elizabeth Bertch Family Fund, was presented at a Community Foundation event where the bakery catered pies. JSA Development and Orchard Improvements renovated the building at 522 Mulberry St.

Now the commercial kitchen gleams with stainless steel and plenty of work space, while the front features pie displays, a freezer case and two tables for lingering over pie and coffee.

The bakery recruits ninth- through 12th-grade young women from Waterloo East and West, and Cedar Falls high schools, as well as nearby schools such as Dike-New Hartford. Presently 11 girls are in the program. They work between seven and 12 hours each week. Volunteers and mentors also are involved.

Each shift begins with a rundown of the baking schedule and work assignments and an inspirational, faith-based message. Twice a week, the employees gather for a meal.

Fifteen-year-old Mariah Ambrose heard about the program through church. “I wanted a job, and I like baking, although I’d never made a pie before. I knew it was faith-based, and I’m a faith-based person. I saw that as a benefit,” said the East High School student.

Ambrose has worked at the bakery for 1½ years and admits it’s been challenging. “Crimping the pie edges … that’s the most difficult thing. They have to look a certain way for consistency, and I got so frustrated when I couldn’t seem to do it right,” she said. But it didn’t take her long to get the hang of it, although she still prefers making pie filling.

On an average day, about 30 large pies and 200 mini pies are produced. Try Pie also fills special orders for sale at several local businesses, including Hansen’s Dairy locations, and has expanded into catering and weddings.

Ehku Htoo, a 16-year-old East High student, has been working at Try Pie since August. Baking and pie making are not part of her Asian culture. “So it’s been a new experience for me. I didn’t realize there are so many steps involved in making a pie. I’ve never had a job before, and it’s a good opportunity for me,” she said.

Try Pie hours are noon to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The store is closed on Thursdays and Sundays.

Neighbors wary of Cedar Falls Industrial Park expansion

CEDAR FALLS — A plan to expand the Cedar Falls Industrial Park is raising concerns for a neighboring wildlife refuge.

Linda Nebbe, who runs the Black Hawk Wildlife Rehabilitation Project on the corner of Viking and Union roads, said she was caught off guard by reports the city was planning to add the property to its tax-increment financing district.

“No one has talked to us about anything,” Nebbe said. “We’ve got a thousand questions.”

The city is holding a public hearing Dec. 17 on plans to include land generally east of Union Road between Viking Road and Ridgeway Avenue in the urban renewal district, which will allow the city to use the TIF revenue to pay for land acquisitions and development costs.

City officials said they only plan to buy the undeveloped land in the proposed TIF district. Nebbe’s property, the Cedar Falls Utilities electric substation and multiple homes along Viking and Union Roads are not being targeted for purchase.

Cedar Falls City Council members have already approved purchase agreements to buy 126 acres of farm land from the Rieger family for $2.65 million and just under 74 acres of farm land from Artesian Earthworks LLC for $1.55 million.

The city intends to annex those nearly 200 acres into the city next year so they can be developed for large industrial lots. Exact boundaries for the annexation area have not been determined, but any property owner in those areas would receive a formal notice when the process begins.

Shane Graham, of the city’s planning office, said the additional land not under purchase agreements is being included in the TIF district because it takes in the road system.

“We are including the Viking Road right-of-way and Union Road right-of-way in the urban renewal area as that gives us the option to utilize urban renewal funding if we would like to do any road upgrades in the future,” he said.

Despite assurances from the city her property was not targeted for a buyout, Nebbe said she has questions about being included in the TIF district and concerns about how the industrial encroachment will affect her 22-acre wildlife sanctuary.

“When we moved here 30 years ago I think the closest thing was five miles away,” she said. “Two years ago we heard (development) was probably 15 years away. It has come faster than we expected.”

Nebbe and other volunteers care for many wild animals — owls, eagles, deer, foxes, beavers and others — which have been orphaned or injured. The land also includes more than 8,000 trees, a reconstructed prairie, ponds and bat colonies.

“We’re not for sale,” she said. “At this point in time it’s business as usual.”

Nebbe said her neighbors were organizing a meeting this week to discuss the city’s plans.

Despite firefighter resistance, Cedar Falls Civil Service OKs new PSOs

CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls Civil Service Commission this week approved eight new Public Safety Officer candidates over the objections of the firefighters’ union.

Scott Dix, Cedar Falls Fire Local 1366 president, sent a letter to the commission opposing certification of the job candidates because he said they didn’t meet the physical standards needed for a firefighter.

Despite Dix’s objection, commission members Robert Frederick and Sue Armbrecht voted Wednesday to approve the list. Commission member John Clopton wasn’t present because of illness.

The commission approves the hiring and promotion of municipal employees. The list was made up of eight candidates from 32 original applicants.

“It is the purview of the city’s government to determine what positions it needs,” Frederick said. “The overall role of the Civil Service Commission and the civil service process is to ensure that all viable candidates for jobs have an equal opportunity to compete.”

Dix said since PSOs are doing the work of firefighters they should be held to the same standard as other Cedar Falls firefighters and go through a more rigorous physical fitness test.

“They’ve changed the actual use of the PSOs,” Dix said. “They were supplemental, auxiliary. Now they’ve simply decided they’re no longer going to hire firefighters.”

The physical tests for Cedar Falls Firefighters have changed over the years.

New PSOs go through the Cooper Test of physical fitness. “It’s designed for law enforcement and does not take any (firefighting) activities into account,” Dix said. “My gear weighs 63 pounds before I even pick up a tool.”

The test has been used in Ames to test prospective firefighting candidates, and is used by Cedar Falls to test prospective PSOs. The test in Cedar Falls includes a timed 1.5 mile run, push-ups, sit-ups and sit and reach. In Ames, the sit and reach portion is replaced with a 300-meter run.

“It’s very similar to what the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy uses,” said Ames Fire Chief Rich Higgins.

In Cedar Falls and Ames, the Cooper Test is only the beginning of a series of tests, physical and academic, prospective firefighter and PSO candidates need to pass, along with a background and medical test.

Dix said in his letter a Candidate Physical Agility Test, or CPAT, should be used to test prospective candidates, although neither Ames nor Cedar Falls Fire Department use the full test.

“We’ve never done the full CPAT; we’ve done a modified version, kind of an in-house fire department physical ability test,” Higgins said. “We’re in the process of re-evaluating that right now.”

The Waterloo Fire Department doesn’t use the CPAT either. It uses a modified combat challenge that includes stair climb with high-rise bundle, rope hoist of a donut roll of hose, simulated forced entry, advance of charged hose and a simulated victim drag.

“The CPAT test is very expensive to administer,” said Waterloo Fire Chief Pat Treloar. “If you’re truly doing it right the equipment’s extremely expensive.”

Prior to Waterloo’s test, candidates also have to a complete an academic test and go before a board for an interview.

Cedar Falls Fire Chief John Bostwick said the CPAT is discriminatory and doesn’t test females and minorities fairly. The CPAT includes a stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search simulation, rescue simulation, ceiling breach and ceiling pull.

“It’s not inclusive,” Bostwick said.

Women often have problems passing the CPAT even after training because of different muscle make-up, Bostwick said.

“They’re perfectly capable of doing all of the fire ground activities, it’s just the CPAT itself is built for a guy who already knows how to be a firefighter,” Bostwick said.

Both the Ames and Cedar Falls departments require candidates become Firefighter 1 certified, which involves a test, sometimes online, to teach candidates the basics of fighting fires.

“Some come in with firefighting experience, some come in with no firefighting experience,” Higgins said. Regardless of experience all candidates have to pass the preliminary tests for both departments.

Dix’s letter is the latest chapter in his work to get more full-time firefighters hired.

“We need to be staffed like Waterloo does,” Dix said. “We need at least the minimum number we had 30 years ago, and we’re over a dozen short from that.”

When the PSO program began three years ago it was supplemental, but now it’s replacing firefighters, Dix said.

“What’s next is probably going to be legal,” Dix said. “(We’ll) be looking at (the election) for next year as a long-term solution, but in the short term we’ll be looking at this legally.”

There are 21 full-time firefighters working with four PSOs at the fire department, and another 35 PSOs working for the city of Cedar Falls.

House Republicans lose farm bill battle on new work requirements

WASHINGTON — Federal food aid recipients won’t be faced with major new work requirements. And changes in forestry policy that made environmentalists furious are gone.

House Republicans gave up Thursday on trying to include those provisions in a massive farm policy bill, clearing the way for a vote in Congress next week.

The concessions will likely help draw Democratic votes to the bill in the House. Democrats indicated support would be more bipartisan and follow similar numbers on past farm bills, which tend to pass comfortably.

The farm bill will reauthorize the nation’s nearly $900 billion in food and agriculture programs for another five years. That includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, which helps low-income families pay for food. The bill also deals with crop insurance, a program that protects farmers against financial losses due to disasters and droughts.

Out is the House Republicans’ plan, which aimed to expand work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. The GOP wanted the work rules to apply to able-bodied adults up to age 59 and to people with young dependent children, an unpopular prospect to Democrats. Leaving that out will mean more support from House Democrats but will alienate some Republicans.

House Republicans lacked enough clout to push for the stricter work requirements after Democratic victories in this month’s House elections.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the lead negotiator for the Senate, was vague about the specific provisions in the compromise. But when asked if the bill would be closer to the Senate’s plan for SNAP, Roberts replied, “I would say, yes.”

The Senate plan included incentives for states to expand work training programs and added new accountability measures to the program.

“It’s more comprehensive and focuses on program integrity,” Roberts said.

A senior Democratic staff member said while SNAP provisions did mostly reflect the Senate version, there were certain “concessions” given to House Republicans. But those concessions will be “tweaks and tightening” to work requirements, not “big sweeping increases,” the staff member said.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the House would largely have to accept the Senate’s position on the nutrition program.

“I don’t think we can get a single Democrat to vote for some of the requirements in the House nutrition title,” Thune said.

Some House Republicans are already signaling the changes mean they won’t support the final bill.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., said on Twitter he couldn’t support the new version of the farm bill after the concessions on some key issues.

“House conservatives, the president and the vast majority of Americans support policies that encourage work and help lift people out of poverty. As I’ve said for months, those provisions have to stay,” Walker said.

But Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., a House Agriculture Committee member, said, “I think we can get it passed,” but added, “For me to sit here and say we’re not going to lose some Republican votes, I can’t say that.” Marshall supports the bill because it preserves crop insurance, a top priority for his district.

Thune said Republicans would also make concessions in the debate over forest fires, an issue that had been elevated to the Senate and House leadership teams after negotiators reached an impasse on the issue in the wake of deadly wildfires in California.

President Donald Trump’s administration and House Republicans advocated for new rules that would expedite forest-thinning projects, but Democrats and environmental groups successfully protested the measure, warning it would be an ineffective tool against fires. Those controversial provisions will be completely stripped from the final version.

The bill will also include a provision that makes it legal for farmers to grow and market hemp products, Roberts confirmed.

“I think it’s going to be a good crop everywhere,” Roberts said. “There’s all sorts of industrial use for that. We’re not talking about cannabis. We’re talking about industrial hemp, so it’s another crop that we’re very hopeful can be a real income producer.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had strongly advocated hemp legalization. His home state was once a major producer of the crop before its production became outlawed. The 2014 farm bill had included a provision that allowed states to make limited hemp cultivation legal.

Senators from both parties indicated the final bill would widely resemble the Senate version of the bill rather than the House version, which passed without a single Democratic vote. The Senate requires at least 60 votes to pass the bill, which means the 51 Republican senators need Democratic support to pass it, unlike in the House, where Republicans currently have a majority.

The deal came together Wednesday, nearly two months after the Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill.