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Grocery Sack Paper Basket

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Spring 2021 Inspire(d)

Got a bunch of paper grocery sacks sitting around at home? Here’s a fun way to reuse them – weave a basket! Perfect for May Day, Easter, or, really…anything at all!

Supplies:

Grocery sack
Ruler
Clothes pins or other clips (at least four)
Glue (doesn’t have to be glitter, haha!)
Pencil
Scissors
Tape (sorry, forgot to include in below picture!)

Cut the paper bag carefully along the back seam.

Once you get to the bottom, continue to follow the seams along to the edges, so the paper bag will open and lie flat as a long, large piece of paper.

Like so! You’ll have some excess bits at the bottom, so go ahead and cut those off, trying to keep as much of the main piece of paper in tact as possible.

You should end up with a piece that looks like below.

Fold the whole thing in half and make a strong crease.

Cut along the crease so you have two pieces of paper now.

Turn them so they are just slightly taller than they are wide. We want longer strips so the basket is the right height (the shorter the strips, the shorter your basket).

Mark every three inches along the top and bottom of each piece of paper – we’ll need nine marks because we will be cutting nine strips.

There will be an excess of about five inches or so, like the below strip. Set that aside for later.

Fold the paper bag along the three-inch marks (we marked both sides of the paper so you can have a more even fold). Make a strong crease.

Once you’ve creased, cut along the fold to make your three-inch strips.

As mentioned, you should end up with nine relatively even three-inch strips (don’t worry, they don’t have to be completely perfect, just do your best to keep them somewhat even).

Pick the least-pretty strip to be the handle. Below is the one I picked!

Grab that strip and fold it into thirds (we’ll be folding the rest of the strips in half, not thirds).

Make a strong crease along the folds.

Then glue the folds together and set this strip aside to dry. Tip: use a clip to keep it together while drying!

Next, start in on the rest of the strips. Fold each in half and make a strong crease.

Tip: I like to use the side of my scissors to make the creases even better!

If there is writing on your paper bag, decide whether you want it to be visible once your basket is finished, or not. If you want to hide the writing, fold the strip so the writing is inside the fold.

Once you’re finished, you should have eight strips that look something like this!

Time to start weaving! Get four strips arranged vertically, then work the other four strips in horizontally, carefully weaving them – under one vertical strip, over the next, under the next, over the last. Like so:

With the next strip, do the opposite (over one vertical strip, under the next, over the next, under the last).

Once you’re done, it might look like this! Now it’s time to straighten up the strips and tighten the weave!

Use your ruler to make sure there’s an even amount of paper sticking out on each of the four sides (it should be about 6.5 inches). Make sure the ends are even on each side as well.

Once you’ve gotten the edges and the amounts sticking out even, keep the weave as tight as you can and tape along the middle square to hold it all in place.

Place a dot in the middle of the four strips on each side, like so:

Use your ruler to make a line connecting the dots.

When you’ve done that, it should look like this:

Use your ruler to make folds along these lines. Do all four sides.

After those folds, it’s time to start forming your basket! Get your clips ready, and start with two strips on one corner.

Fold one strip over to the left, and fold the other strip across it, like so:

Grab the next strip to the left, and work it in opposite (weaving). Pull the strips taught – it should automatically start forming your corner. This can seem a little messy as you’re going, but you can tighten the basket up once you get to the top layer.

The weave at that corner is complete once you get to a point where you can’t make another weave with the current strips you’re using. You’ll be folding the excess pieces over eventually, but for now, just clip it in the middle and move on to the next corner.

As mentioned, it can get a bit messy, but don’t worry. It’ll work out! Here’s my basket with one corner to go.

Get your final corner to it’s top weave and pull it as tight as possible. Then, start your folds. Fold the strip that’s on the top of the weave down over the other strip, like so:

Tuck it into the basket and tighten your fold.

After you’ve folded all the strips down on that corner, clip it again and move on to the next corner.

If you can, you can tuck longer strips into the next piece inside the basket. Once you’ve done all your sides, it should look like this inside your basket.

For the strips that didn’t get tucked in, glue the tabs down, then clip again while it’s drying.

 

If you’d like your corners to have more shape, you could crease at the tip of each corner, then continue that crease all along that corner.

Next, grab that excess piece of paper sack you set aside at the beginning. Roll it into the basket to see how much is sticking up – you’ll be cutting that down to size.

Cut the part that stuck up out of the basket off all the way around, and then trim the length so it’ll fit neatly inside the basket. This piece will tidy up the inside of your basket, and help make it sturdier.

Put a liberal amount of glue on your now-sized-up sheet, then roll it into the basket.

The clips can come in handy here again. Push the sheet into the corners to help the basket hold shape.

Almost there! Now it’s time for the handle. Grab the strip you folded into thirds and glued at the very beginning, and shape it a bit so it makes the rounded handle you’re wanting it to be. Like so:

Now, put a dot of glue on the inside and outside of one side of the handle, and tuck it in between your stabilizing sheet and the inside of your basket (so you don’t see the handle end).

Do the same on the other side of the handle, then clip until it dries.

And you’re done! As you can see, you can follow this method for lots of different sized baskets – the tiny one below was with an 8.5 x 11 sheet! The wider one had more strips (you can make larger baskets by using more strips – the only requirement is that you use an even number on the strips you use for horizontal and vertical, for example – 8 & 8 or 6 & 6). Happy weaving!

Adrian Lipscombe

By Sara Walters • Originally published in the Holiday + Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d)

Adrian Lipscombe of 40 Acres and a Mule

Photo courtesy Adrian Lipscombe

Farming in the Midwest is a deep-rooted tradition. Grounded in a history of agriculture, cultivating the foods that end up on our tables has long been the legacy of the region, particularly in the Driftless. But for the black community, the same isn’t true.

This striking reality presented itself loud-and-clear to Adrian Lipscombe, owner of Uptown Cafe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, earlier this year, and it eventually led her to launch a black farming initiative, 40 Acres and a Mule. But as passionate as she’s been about supporting the black farmer, it’s surprising to learn that she became involved in the cause almost serendipitously.

After the events surrounding George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis the summer of 2020, Adrian received a check in the mail. Confused, she thought maybe she had forgotten to collect from a catering job. But then came the requests for Venmo payments. Adrian, a black woman and small business owner, couldn’t figure out what it was for, so she finally asked. Turns out, people just wanted to support her during this moment of racial inequality and unrest.

Adrian went to bed puzzled. Should she take the money? What would she do with it?

A good night’s rest was all the inspiration she needed. Adrian woke and immediately knew, “I’m going to buy black land and I’m going to concentrate on black farmers,” she says, thinking back to that pivotal moment. As an entrepreneur and former city planner, Adrian immediately kicked it into high gear, reaching out to contacts on the East Coast – this epiphany happened early in the morning and she needed resources that were awake. “I was asking them, does this exist? And I learned that this is a real need. So I launched 40 Acres and a Mule within 24 hours,” she says.

40 Acres and a Mule strives to provide resources and connections for black farmers. The name comes from a term derived from Union General William T. Sherman in his 1865 Special Field Order No. 15. This reparations movement promised to pay restitution to African Americans for their enslavement.

This seemed fitting to Adrian as she began digging into the history of black farming. Reaching out to different organizations, she started to see that her community was a perfect example of where black farming could thrive, but hasn’t. “Wisconsin is a homogeneous farming community. But where is the black farmer today?” she found herself asking.

The fact that she asks these questions, launches initiatives within 24 hours, and is the first person people think of when they have extra money to support a business, is why Adrian is the epitome of a community builder. With roots in the South, she’s not a La Crosse native, but the city has welcomed her, and her leadership, with open arms. “La Crosse is such a great community. It’s the smallest city I’ve ever lived in,” she says. “People here are really sincere in wanting to help make it a better place, a diverse place, an equitable place.” Though she was surprised by the monetary outreach this summer, she wasn’t surprised that her community wanted to help. “They come out when there is a need – they get behind that and they support that. It’s difficult to do in a large city with a large population,” she says, joking that she wishes she could keep her beloved community the well-kept secret it is. “They all care and they’re all so genuine. It’s magical.”

What better place for Adrian to kick off 40 Acres and a Mule than a place “surrounded by organic farmers and great people”? Though her cause has garnered a wide following, media attention, and donations from across the country, it’s the day-to-day in La Crosse that Adrian credits with providing the support to press on, and to continue to be a black business owner in America. “Our restaurant’s relationship to the community has gotten stronger. Especially during a time like this. For people to come by and check on us. Just to wave at us in the window to make sure we’re okay. Here in La Crosse you have those opportunities to take deeper breaths, to understand what is happening in your community and the world around you,” she says.

When she’s not out researching, speaking with farmers, meeting with the media, raising awareness, and just generally spearheading the project, Adrian still has responsibilities at her restaurant. Like many small businesses during the pandemic, there has been so much pivoting that “my hips hurt” she laughs. Uptown Cafe has added outdoor dining and has made space to accommodate more bakery items. “We have to adapt,” she says.  “It’s an unprecedented time, we are able to chart the way. There’s going to be some mistakes but we’re going to find the good, too.”

That’s how she’s approaching 40 Acres and Mule, too. She admits, “What I thought was a gap is really like a canyon.” Black farming, black foodways, agricultural disparities, lack of education, lack of profitability, and lack of black mentorship in the industry are just the tip of the iceberg and Adrian knows it. Though she wishes she could do it all, “we’re focusing on what we can realistically do,” she says, adding, “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we want the wheel to go faster.”

There are lots of avenues Adrian sees for increasing the speed of the wheel. At first, she thought it needed to be specifically just land for black farmers. But land is expensive, and though she still has her sights set on this, she has pivoted again (sore, sore hips) to address other issues for black farmers. She’s learned that many are over the age of 55 and have no one to whom they can pass down their legacy. Others are young and interested, but have no place to turn to for education and mentorship. She also acknowledges that historically, black farming has been tumultuous and violent. She wants to help control and shape this narrative going forward – to give it some positivity, to point black communities in the right direction, to make lifelong connections between black business and farmers. Adrian sees the Driftless as a great case study for change. She’s currently working to understand community needs, working directly with both black and white farmers to learn more about their work and the economics of farming.

Her short-term goal is to serve as a conduit between black farmers and available resources. She knows there are trustworthy organizations and systems that can help them, but the connection isn’t there. “It’s difficult for black farmers to find the aid that they need. It’s really huge that that is missing,” she explains. And ultimately, her long-term goal is to produce more black farmers in America. To help provide that education and open up that pathway to “give black people the chance to be farmers if they want to,” Adrian says.

As a chef, Adrian knows full-well the importance of supporting farmers of all ethnicities, so restaurants like hers can continue to bring quality dishes to the tables of patrons. “Understanding agriculture and understanding how food is produced is important to my job and my restaurant. I’m getting the chance to understand from the ground to the plate. Being involved in that process, to me that’s so joyful to know where my food comes from,” she says. “It’s like putting my hands in the soil.”

Adrian continues to build this community with the support of donors far and wide. 40 Acres and a Mule’s GoFundMe page has already raised over $131,000 as of printing. And locally, in the Driftless, people continue to do what they do best – provide support. “Farmers are mentoring me, both black and white. To have the opportunity to talk to them about where their food goes is an honor. It’s a rare opportunity.”


Sara Walters is a freelance writer and mom living in La Crescent, Minnesota. She is the daughter and granddaughter of lifelong farmers. 

Holiday + Winter Inspire(d) – Read it Online Here!

Holiday + Winter Inspire(d)

The Holiday + Winter Inspire(d) is about Looking for the Bright Spots in every day – even through the darkest days of winter. Inside, you’ll find tons of inspiration to make the most of this time of year – and lives:

Focus on Mental Health • GrandPad • Make the Most of Winter • Pete Espinosa • Adrian Lipscombe • Cross Stitch Gnome Card • Q&A with Dr. Michael Osterholm • Ferndale Market • Moxi + Riedell Skates • End-of-Life Doula • Probit – Ruth Woldum • More!

Read the whole thing online here!

A note from Aryn:

You know those winter days when you head out for a walk and the sun is shining…and you tilt your face up to meet it and it feels like everything is going to be alright?

This is feeling we’d like to encourage you to find in your day-to-day lives – even when the sun isn’t shining (and everything doesn’t feel alright). We want you to Look for the Bright Spots everywhere.

2020 has been a year where we’ve had to frequently reinvent ourselves.

How we communicate: We found platforms like Zoom to stay social, something that is more important than ever, according to nationally renowned epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm. I got to chat on the phone with him for 15 minutes to talk COVID-19, Zoom, and how his path took him from Waukon, Iowa, to his current role at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. See the interview on page 29. For our relatives who have a little more trouble with tech, or needed a little more help on a regular basis, we turned to devices like GrandPad, based out of Wabasha, Minnesota. Decorah native Scott Lien and his son created a tablet purposefully sans complicated features – but with large, easy-to-use buttons and instant access to online help (pg 14).

How we think: We have had to dig deep to find positivity this year. And we’ll have to keep digging. Learn some strategies from regional mental health counselors like Olivia Lynn Schnur, who joins us as a new contributor this issue, plus tips on staying positive from yours truly, too. I’ve spent more than 13 years running Inspire(d), and it’s offered a great foundation for keeping on the sunny side of life. I’d love to help you do the same (pg 33).

How we find joy: Contributor Erin Dorbin found it in a pair of super colorful and totally awesome roller skates – Moxi’s Lollys. Then she discovered they were made right here in the Driftless Region at Riedell Skates Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota. It led her down a path of a pretty darn cool collaboration, and the story of how roller skating popularity has surged across the nation during this pandemic.

How we live: We carry on, Building Community, like Pete Espinosa and Adrian Lipscombe. And how we die: Kristine Jepsen takes on this important topic about choice and comfort, end-of-life doulas, and how we need to be having these conversations.

Through it all, we find the Bright Spots. Making the most out of winter and holidays, cozy reading, cross stitching, kits in the mail, cooking a big fancy meal just because, and small town charm.

Speaking of, every issue, we hope to get suggestions for probituaries. This issue, we got a few from a Decorah resident, and we reached out to one: Ruth Woldum. She agreed to be featured, and not long later, we got an email from her granddaughter…Britney Bakken! The same woman who interviewed her grandfather in the Summer/Fall issue! We had no idea that Ruth was her grandmother (on the other side of the family), and we all laughed at how perfectly “small town” this coincidence was!

Finding creative ways to overcome the challenges of the year has definitely highlighted bright spots for me. That said, I am looking forward to next year with…what else?…hope and optimism! As we come to a close with 2020 and take tentative steps into 2021, let’s keep looking for the Bright Spots.

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols