Posts Categorized: Favorites

Driftless Day Trips: Dubuque, Iowa


By Aryn Henning Nichols, originally published in the Spring 2011 Inspire(d) Magazine

When you live in a land of no coasts, bodies of water take on a whole new significance. This is not to say that something as large and in charge as the Mississippi River isn’t already “kind of a big deal” – it’s just that we Midwesterners tend to appreciate it in a “let’s spend the day at the beach” sort of way when we can head out of the house in less than 40 layers. This Boxed (IN) takes us to the southern “port” town of Dubuque, Iowa.

Dubuque has a certain old-world charm – it’s one of the original European settlements west of the Mississippi River. The first permanent settler arrived in 1785 – a pioneer named Julien Dubuque. After Julien came a plethora of German and Irish Catholic immigrants moving to Dubuque for work, eventually leading it to become a Roman Catholic headquarters, with the Archdiocese of Dubuque established there in 1873. Much of the population is still Catholic, and beautiful old churches mark the landscape, along with amazing Victorian architecture throughout downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.

GoingDownFrom the Town Clock – dating back to 1873 when it was built on top of a building a few blocks from the roundabout it currently centers – you can start a fun-filled afternoon in Dubuque. Head over to the Cable Car Square and take the Fenelon Place Elevator up “the world’s steepest, shortest scenic railway” – ‘cause really…how could you head to Dubuque WITHOUT doing this? Embrace it, because the views at the top are breathtaking! Back at the bottom of the hill, out of the clouds, take in the Dubuque Museum of Art. Although it’s quite small (or some might say “perfectly-sized”), you won’t be able to miss it. Just look for giant American Gothic sculpture, and enjoy one of the best Grant Wood collections in the country.

DBQJulienWhile there are a variety of places to stay in the downtown vicinity, the Hotel Julien’s history, charm, and upscale accommodations are hard to beat. Then for dinner, check out one of the tasty and tastefully renovated restaurants in the Historic Downtown District. L.May Eatery and Pepper Sprout are both highlights.

Be sure to make time in your trip to visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium – it is Fun with a capitol F. Expect to spend several hours here before you even realize it! There are large aquariums and exhibits that feature giant catfish, turtles, otters, ducks, frogs, reptiles and the history of our river – and how we need to take care of it. The interactive exhibits and demonstrations bring history and science to life – literally. It’s truly a wonderful place for people of all ages to spend a day, but we’re sure the kids will have fun splashing around and checking out live seahorses or aquatic games. You can even sit in a cave to hear a story!DBQAquarium

Beyond the fun your inner child is having, your big kid self might enjoy a trip to a local brewery, winery, or even the Diamond Jo Casino. Or get outside for a trek at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Eagle Point Park, or the Mines of Spain Recreation Area. Then catch some live music at Eronelthe Lift or Monk’s Kaffee Pub, which, coincidentally, turns into a coffee shop by day where you can grab a cappuccino before you head on home.

Dubuque, Iowa:
60+ miles south of Elkader/McGregor/Prairie du Chien
98 miles south of Decorah
121 miles south of La Crosse, Wisconsin
171 miles south of Rochester, Minnesota

En Route:
You can make some fun stops on the way, depending on the direction you’re driving. Stop by Schera’s in Elkader for a great lunch on the way, or visit the Park Farm Winery in Bankston to experience a grand hilltop villa in rural Iowa. (for great history!)

Aryn Henning Nichols had a fond childhood memory of riding up the Fenelon Place Elevator with her family.  She’ll be heading back… and she simply can’t get enough of that National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium!



Inspire(d) Life: 5 Potty Training Lessons

imageWondering what it’s like at Inspire(d) HQ? Well, right now we’re potty-training our almost-two-year-old. It is one of the most patience-trying things I’ve ever experienced. Seriously, kid, do you really have to go every time I lay you down for sleep? Even after the last time…just 10 minutes ago?

But it also makes me laugh, and often! I hope, when you’re most frustrated, you can laugh too!

Here are some potty-training *facts I’ve learned over the past month:

1. If it’s in the bathroom, it’s covered in pee. It doesn’t matter if it’s five feet up, inside a cupboard; it’s covered in pee. Possibly poop. Yeah. Just go ahead and wash it.

2. Nobody wants to encourage the Girl Who Cried Pee. But the minute you call her out, she’s gonna make you pay. With pee.

3. You’ll be shocked by the number of times you say things like “Get your head out of the toilet!” or “No, do NOT pick up the poop. Just say, ‘bye bye’ to the poop.” And my personal favorite: “Downward dog so I can wipe your butt.” (<– this really happens…)

4. Potty is quite possibly the worst word in the world, but soon you’ll find yourself using it in public even when your kids aren’t around.

5. Your child would like to cordially invite you and everyone you know to her bathroom for a poop-viewing party. Grandparents, neighbors, strangers on the street, behold: Your Child’s Poop. You may now clap your hands. (Then wash them.)

*These are in no way facts.



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