Posts Tagged: kristine jepsen

Community Builders: Red’s IGA

By Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d) Magazine

Meatball suppers, spaghetti feeds, pancake breakfasts: There’s no dispute that food fundraisers are a beloved Midwestern tradition, especially when there’s lefse involved.

But in small towns across the Driftless, fundees face a bit of a problem: Any such rally takes time to organize and many, many hands to run successfully. And who wants to plan for months to raise only a few Benjamins in the end (after expenses)?

This was the dilemma Pat ‘Red’ Longmire of Spring Grove, Minnesota, set out to solve six years ago. As founder and owner-manager of Red’s IGA on the east end of town, he saw mutual benefit to running a “turnkey” fundraising program for local organizations. First, Red’s chooses a tasty seasonal menu (meat, ‘taters, veg, coleslaw, and a buttered roll) and performs the food prep. Then, they set up a serving station, usually in the produce aisle of the store, and a few staff, often including Red himself, work alongside student or non-profit volunteers to assemble $9 to-go plates as customers drop in. Generally, 250 meals are served up, and when it’s done, Red’s provides the cleanup.

“My goal is to put $1,000 in their pocket every time,” Red says of the fundraiser recipients: Spring Grove student council, Lions Club, food pantry, and Friends of the Library, among several other causes. “It’s like smoking brisket,” he says, referencing one of his favorite hobbies. “I just love to see the reaction on someone’s face when they take a bite and enjoy it.”

Meanwhile, customers who stop in for the meal get a close look at Red’s ever-expanding stock of vegetables, fruits and items on promo, there in Aisle One.

“Having people come into the store, supporting a local cause, at the end of a long day, getting a plate of comfort foods, gives people a lot of confidence in shopping locally,” Red says. “It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, the more you give back to community, the stronger your support in return. As business owners, I feel it’s our responsibility to give back.”

So keep an eye on the lettered sign outside Red’s IGA (or keep-up-to-date on Facebook). Once each month, September through May, it will announce which Spring Grove organization is running a “Red’s meal deal.” Plates will feature sliced turkey breast (sometime in November), or, yes, gooey, delicious Swedish meatballs in midwinter.

This year they’ll be adding half-chicken to the rotation, utilizing the smoking equipment of Fat Pat’s Texas BBQ, a food truck Red is partnering on with his son, Patrick, Jr. Recently returned to Spring Grove with his young family, Pat (as he’s known, apart from his dad) picked up the BBQ trade as a traveling musician in – you guessed it – Texas. Father and son work side-by-side in the grocery store and in the food truck, which often sells out within an hour or two of sliding open their window for business.

“In small towns, people are giving constantly,” Pat concludes. “That’s the nature of pitching in to make things like the Christmas light display in the city park possible.” By providing a hot, familiar meal on a chilly night, Red’s IGA hopes to make that charity easy as pie.

Community Builders: Liz Rog & Brad Crawford

Liz Rog & Brad Crawford: DecorahNow.com

By Kristine Jepsen

“I think this started because I would get asked by someone on the street, or in the Co-op, if maybe there wasn’t some Norwegian dancing and music they could learn, or go listen to?’” says Decorah community champion Liz Rog, her hands flying to her temples, incredulous wonder spreading on her face. “And I thought, ‘How could these wonderful, engaged people live here for years and NOT know about Foot-Notes dances?’” (Local string band, Foot-Notes, plays traditional Scandinavian schottisches and other Scandinavian-American music for public dances year-round.)

“I realized that people just needed to know about the cool things going on around them in this wonderful place, and that no one should feel they have to be in the ‘in’ crowd to be invited to events. So, I became the messenger,” she says.

Now, it’s not hard to imagine Liz Rog as a networker, community catalyst, person who knows stuff. One look at her black daily planner, crammed with notes on bits of paper and filled to every margin, tells you that community and the facilitation of it are her life’s work.

At the time, in 2008, she was already emailing 100-odd supporters of historic East Side School, who were fighting to save it from demolition, ultimately unsuccessfully. Late one night, using wi-fi at Oneota Community Food Co-op (she still doesn’t have Internet at her rural home), she sent this group a list of everything she knew to be happening in town that week.

Thus began DecorahNow.com, an online listing of events (especially music), classes, and resources in Decorah and surrounding communities. Today, 800 users view the site daily and more than 200 buy/sell/want ads turn over in its classified section each month.

But in those early days, as residents of all ages were just beginning to use digital calendaring and communications daily, much of Decorah Now compilation happened by hand. “People would call me and leave messages, and I’d be sitting until 3 a.m. typing these notes into one massive list for a weekly e-mail,” Liz says. “Every week I would swear off it. And every day someone would tell me about something they had attended or discovered because of it, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.”

Eventually, she started color-coding sections and highlighting new items, in an attempt to make the email more readable. Her earnestness caught the attention of Decorah native Brad Crawford, who was working in California at the time.

“I got an email from Brad with a QuickTime video tutorial attached,” Liz explains. “And after I got QuickTime installed so I could view it, I realized an angel had been sent to save me.”

The clip demonstrated a Ruby on Rails database Brad had built that automated much of the formatting and allowed readers to subscribe and contribute their own news items. And so began their partnership in problem-solving for the public good. The two meet regularly, often in Java John’s coffee house, now that Brad has moved back to Decorah and works with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development.

They knew they were on to something when amazing things started coming through, Liz explains. “At one point, a parent posted about their child dropping $5 of hard-earned money on her walk home. Within a day, someone had found and returned it.”

And some listings say ‘small town’ in a big way, Brad adds with a chuckle. “One person posted that they were headed out of town for the weekend and that others were welcome to the two bananas, a kiwifruit and an apple in their fridge.”

In 2016 Liz and Brad began migrating the site to WordPress, an industry-leading website platform where new features are contributed by developers around the world. DecorahNow.com, for its part, continues to be free to use and accepts donations to offset the time it takes to answer reader questions, debug site features, and catch new scams that crop up in the classifieds section.

“It’s really a big experiment in seeing what the community needs and using technology to get it out there,” Brad says. And, thanks to the Internet, word has spread. New residents credit the vibrant diversity showcased in DecorahNow.com as one reason they decided to move. And Liz and Brad have still bigger dreams for the future, such as building a Skills School Network for practical arts and developing a sharing economy to help out elderly or other citizens who need a hand.

“I wanted to shine a light on the people here and foster appreciation for what we have together – and make it plain that anyone can fit in by offering what they have to offer,” Liz concludes. “And it has done exactly that.”

 

Read the Spring 2017 Inspire(d) Online!

Here’s what’s happening in the Spring 2017 Inspire(d):

Female Mountain Bikers (Rule) • Hannah Breckbill / Farmer • Anna Bolz / Chef • Lindy Weilgart / Whale Researcher • Sum of Your Biz: Brittany Todd • Paper Project: Rad Awards! • Infographic: Empower the Girls in Your Life • Probit: Sarah Andersen + Short Profiles from YOU on Women Who Inspire YOU!

A note from Aryn:

Everything about this spring issue reminds me of why I make Inspire(d) Magazine, and why I work every day to be a strong, smart, brave woman: our tiny four-year-old daughter.

We women are an amazing gender, and while I mean no disregard for the sometimes hairier sex, we have to stick together. For many years we’ve had to prove ourselves to the world. That we’re capable, that we’re strong, that we’re smart and worth just as much as any other human being.

I feel that. Definitely as a business owner and boss. As a spouse. As a mother.

I strive to illustrate and help Roxie realize that girls can do motha-effin’ anything.

I asked her recently if there was anything she thought girls couldn’t do. She said no.

I want her to have that answer for the rest of her life.

So, to that effect, we’ve featured some kick-ass women throughout these pages. We start it off with whale expert Lindy Weilgart – she grew up in Decorah and graduated from Luther, and is now one of the leading scientists in the field of sperm whale communication.

Brittany Todd shares with us her mad life skills for the Sum of Your Business. She’s been capturing memories for folks for nearly seven years through Photography by Brittany, and gives us the low-down on home office vs. downtown office.

I had the pleasure of interviewing some super rad female mountain bikers from all around the Driftless Region – from Lake Mills to Minneapolis to La Crosse, and right here in Decorah. I am seriously inspired and can’t wait to hit the trails. For real. Plus, I learned some really cool info about high school cycling leagues and hope I can get Roxie interested some day!

The ever-talented Kristin Anderson is back again with an awesome paper project: rad awards. You can give these to the women (or men, or kids, or grandparents) in your life at any point. Congratulate them on passing a test, or for totally adulting, or being the best friend ever. Just have fun.

Kristine Jepsen writes about Hannah Breckbill and Humble Hands Farm. They overcame last year’s flood and are now planting the seeds for not only their farm, but community growth too.

And Sara Friedl-Putnam interviewed Decorah native and now New York-living pastry chef Anna Bolz. Anna works at renowned restaurant, Per Se, where she concocts desserts of amazing levels of deliciousness.

In the “empower my girl” category, I put together an infographic to offer us some ideas – from reading books by awesome female authors to just being confident in yourself.

Of course, our probituary, Sarah Andersen, is an inspiring woman too – I just loved her story. Plus, throughout the whole magazine are wonderful short stories submitted by all you lovely readers. Yep, you shared tales about inspiring women in your lives, and we got them all bundled up like little love notes. Just thinking about them makes me happy!

So enjoy, my friends. Say “Happy Women’s Day” March 8. Say “Thanks” to your mom. Say, “You’re amazing,” to your wife, partner, or best friend. Every day, let’s work to bring more light into the world, like a burgeoning spring season. After a while, you’ll realize – one day – that it’s 7 pm… and it’s still light out.

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols