Posts Categorized: Inspired Ideas

You can support Iowa arts with new local crowd funding site!

The Puppet Project

Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) has launched Iowa’s First Crowd Funding Website for the Arts. The website,, is up and running and accepting donations for three projects. But only until July 31, 2014! Each project has a goal of $5,000. Contributions may be tax deductible as a charitable donation and some projects even offer super special incentives for contributors.

“We are extremely excited to launch this new crowd funding website,” Northeast Iowa RC&D Executive Director Lora Friest says. “As far as we know, this is the first crowd funding website for multiple art projects that anyone in Iowa has ever launched, but funding to advance the arts in our small communities is so limited that we feel this is an important initiative. We have seen individual projects raise funds over the Internet and certainly many art projects receive private funds but this is different in its scope. The public has a chance to contribute large and small amounts to multiple projects and then watch as those project funds are raised to see if the projects meet their goal.” It’s called crowd funding because many people can each donate a small amount to reach a larger goal. Image

The three projects open for contributions are The Puppet Project, Nisse on the Trail, and the Creativity Center: Artisan Café and Courtyard. The Puppet Project will help develop three enormous parade puppets that will make appearances in parades around Northeast Iowa and will join their mythological brother and sister puppets in the Nordic Fest parade. The Nisse on the Trail Project will develop permanent Nisse sculptures along the Trout Run Trail to be found by curious explorers. The Creativity Center Project will bring culinary arts to the after school fine arts program in Guttenberg.

While July is the only month to donate to these three projects, it may not be the end to crowd funding at for creative initiatives in Iowa.

“This crowd funding website will have a tremendous impact on our rural Northeast Iowa communities, bringing them alive with all types of private and public art that enriches our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren,” Friest says.

Projects for the site are selected through a competitive process by the Northeast Iowa Arts Funding Council–a multi-county group of volunteers that includes artists and community leaders. They aspire to “Encourage, Support and Strengthen the Arts in Northeast Iowa.” The Council plans to accept applications for projects annually from a seven county area of Northeast Iowa.

If donating through the Internet makes you queasy, you can also mail in donations to Northeast Iowa RC&D, PO Box 916, Postville, Iowa 52162 or call (563) 864-7112 and specify which project you’re interested in funding. Everyone else can donate at

What’s a Food Hub Anyway?

‘Fresher is Much Finer’
Story and infographic by Aryn Henning Nichols

Making sure it’s fresh is not just a fish thing any more. Actually, it hasn’t been in a long time. Like ever.
Folks with discerning palates across the world have always known that with food – any food – fresh is best. Lucky for all of us, food hubs – like the Iowa Food Hub based in Decorah, Iowa – are making fresh food an easier option.

“If Chicago can get something that was picked here today the very next day…that’s a big deal,” says Chair of the Iowa Food Hub Board Nick McCann. “Everything in our program is picked, packed, and delivered in the course of a couple of days.”

That really is a big deal.

Many small-to-mid-size farmers and producers face challenges in distribution and processing. This is generally due to a lack of infrastructure that, if in place, would help these producers to meet the rising demand for local food in retail, institutional, and commercial markets. That’s where food hubs come in.

“We facilitate market connections that producers couldn’t make otherwise,” McCann says.

Food hubs offer a variety of services: from the obvious combining of your products with others for mass sales (called aggregation) to production, distribution, and marketing services.

“You can do one, maybe two things well. You have to grow, harvest, and market your crops. Those are three large, intense things. And it’s too much for a lot of growers,” McCann says. “A lot of people worry that we’ll be taking all their profits, but after working with us, they realize our fees aren’t that much – especially for what we can do for them.”

And what is that, exactly? Well, through food hubs, retailers can buy locally but still know it’s source-verified. Food hubs can also act as umbrellas for liability insurance, which is incredibly helpful for the “little guy”. But the biggest part is that food hubs do the legwork on virtually all of a producer’s resale needs – finding retailers, educating them on your products, making sure those products are properly handled from shipment to store, and ensuring fair and competitive pricing that will bring customers back, especially once they taste the quality of their purchases.

That’s the kicker: Quality. Food hubs are sourcing things locally, and many assume local products will cost more than, say, bulk tomatoes from California. But, surprisingly, it can actually be more economical! And, unlike what you’d expect, the savings don’t really come from shorter shipping distance. The real savings to retailers is on shrinkage. They’re not losing products to over-ripeness or rot when the produce is that fresh.

“What’s the “real” cost of those tomatoes from California when you lose seven percent right off the bat?” McCann says. “We’re working to convince retailers it really is a win-win.”

The additional bonus is that more folks get exposed to local products – in the Iowa Food Hub’s case, Iowa and Driftless Region products. It’s the final link that keeps everyone growing together, pun intended.
The Iowa Food Hub buys from anyone – organic, conventional, agricultural – in its 150-mile radius, although most of the producers are based in or near Northeast Iowa. Iowa Food Hub, just one year old this spring, is the largest in Iowa.
“There are just so many farmers and producers in this region, it’s not surprising that we’ve grown fast,” McCann says. “We saw a need here, and a role for an entity to play.”

Check out the food hub infographic below or download a printable pdf  to learn more about how it all works, and works for us!

Aryn Henning Nichols is a big fan of “work smarter, not harder.” This seems to be a big proponent of food hubs, and she thinks that is pretty darn cool.

Food Hub InfographicPLUS! Check out the Iowa Food Hub’s Grocery Subscription Program

The Iowa Food Hub offers services not only to producers and retailers, but also to consumers in the form of a grocery subscription program. The “food box” program delivers local, fresh food each week to worksites, schools, or churches that have signed up for a subscription. It currently includes weekly delivery to stops in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Waterloo/Cedar Falls.

Using local products in the food boxes keeps money in our communities and allows folks to enjoy and get exposed to more of what this region has to offer.
Iowa Food Hub includes both farmers who grow the products, and processors who turn raw agricultural products into usable goods. As such, the food boxes include meat, milk, eggs, yogurt, produce, breads, and more.

Iowa Food Hub offers a Grocery Subscription Program that delivers local, fresh food to worksites, schools, or churches that have signed up for a subscription. Learn more at

The Inspiration for Inspire(d)

In the spring of 2003, my sister was getting activated to go to the Iraq War. I was a senior in college at the picturesque University of Iowa, living with three messy boys, taking photojournalism and online media, and sort of taking it easy. In February of that year, I had already gone to Waterloo where Devon lived with her son and boyfriend – the boyfriend had already gotten activated and was in Iraq and my task was to help my sister pack up her then nine-year-old son and put him on a plane to go live with my parents (who at that time were in Alabama…long story).

Together we packed his things into a brand new suitcase and went on to pack the house, “I may as well rent while I’m gone – I don’t need the house sitting empty,” she said. So in a couple of months, after her Army reserves unit had finished preparation for more than a year in the hot, dry desert, it was time to go to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri to actually see her off on her very last weekend in country. But I couldn’t get in the car. I couldn’t make myself get out of my bed and drive down there to say goodbye. I was sad that she had to go. That her son had to live without either parental figures. And I was mad at myself for not going.

For weeks – maybe months – there was a pair of books sitting in our kitchen. One, The Journey is the Destination, was a compilation of journals and artwork by Dan Eldon, a photojournalist who had been stoned to death in Somalia in 1993. The other was his biography, The Art of Life, written by Jennifer New, an Iowa City author. That weekend, I poured over the journals and read the entire biography. When the story reached the point where Dan died, I cried. And I went online to learn more. I felt like someone had lit me on fire. I was inspired. Now, I am no slouch of a gal – I’ve always done well in school, have been involved in lots of activities and have been fairly outgoing. But I don’t remember ever feeling this overwhelming desire to go out and ACTUALLY DO something with my self and my life like I did that weekend. Dan was someone like me. He didn’t know what he was doing all the time. He didn’t know what direction he always wanted to take. Yet he still did good things for himself, the people around him, and the world. I wanted to affect change in this way – this way that seemed more possible than any other way before.

My plans were already set for the next six months – I was headed to Toronto for an exchange program/magazine internship. When I returned, I had a better idea of how I wanted to change the world.  My aunt picked me up from the Amtrak station north of Chicago and I told her “I want to start a magazine about inspiration. I want it to be easier for people to find stories that sparks something in them as Dan’s story sparked with me. I want to help people inspire other people.” She liked this idea. So did I. I just didn’t have any idea how I was going to accomplish it. Start a magazine? C’mon.

I figured if I was going to change the world, I should learn a little more about it. So after graduation I looked into ways to travel, researching the Peace Corp, the possibility of working on a cruise ship, being an au pair, or teaching English in another country. Luckily, with a little help from a friend (thanks, Ted), a teaching job in China fell in my lap. I hadn’t thought about China before, but okay. I jumped up and down excitedly. Let’s go.

It changed my life, as I think international travel tends to do. I will always think fondly of my year traveling around China and Southeast Asia, and in some ways I think it helped me understand Dan’s story a little better – someone with a mom from Iowa and a dad from London, born in Britain and raised in Africa most definitely had a unique perspective on the people of this world. I hoped I had gotten even an 1/8th of this perspective in my travels. When I returned to the US, it was time to figure things out again. I remembered my plan to start a magazine, but it didn’t seem realistic. I applied for jobs and began waitressing and working at the local newspaper in the town my parents now lived, Decorah, just 12 miles from where I grew up. Then, with a little help from an editor (thanks, Rick), my soul mate fell in my lap. (That story will have to come in a later blog).

Meeting Benji changed my life, as I suppose meeting your soul mate tends to do. I told him my idea about a magazine on our first date, and he said something so simple yet so perfect. “Let’s do it.” Just more than one year later, we got married. One month after that, the first issue of Inspire(d) Magazine rolled off the press.

The plan was still the same – tell stories of real people who are affecting change in some way – but the scope was modified slightly and perfectly. Instead of the massive task of inspiring the world, the nation, or even the state, we wanted to inspire our neighbors. These people wouldn’t be just “real,”  they would be relatable: Your friends, family, co-workers. And if they can do something good in this world, why can’t you?

Seven years later, we’ve hopefully Inspire(d) some folks. Some folks have definitely inspire(d) us. And we have big plans for this world. Let’s change it!