Posts Tagged: aryn henning nichols

Go Ahead: Have a Cow

By Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Oct/Nov issue of Inspire(d) Magazine, updated Aug. 2014

Have you spotted the new cow mural on the Oneota Cow-op? (The puns have been udderly ridiculous here in Decorah…) Her name is Irene and she was painted by Waukon artist Valerie Miller. We got to interview her back in 2010, so here’s a little #tbt!

ValerieMillerworking

“How now?” probably wouldn’t be the question artist Valerie Miller asks the Brown Cow, if given the chance. More likely it would be, “Could you please hold still?”

You see, Valerie paints cows – brown and every kind in between. She carefully captures their expressive eyes, subtle body language, and sometimes not-so-subtle attitudes and pairs them with bright, barren backgrounds in a pop-art-meets-the-farm sort of style.

So, of course, it makes perfect sense that she and her husband, artist and furniture designer Josh Miller (J.L.Miller Company), would call Waukon home. For Valerie, home again.

Although it was Josh’s idea to move back to the area to start their gallery,  (Steel Cow), in Northeast Iowa, Valerie was equally excited – and not just for of the abundance of cows.

“It is nice here – it is a beautiful, quaint, small, Midwestern area that has more subjects than I can ever paint – plus it’s home,” she says. “It feels good to be surrounded by friends and family.”

After pondering various locales to plant roots, and a 3-day trial run in Montana, coming back to Waukon was – to quote Goldilocks – just right.

“There isn’t the quantity or variety of the big cultural activities here you find in larger cities such as museums, art galleries, theater, etc. but on the other hand we are in the middle of the country and it is easy to go anywhere from here. People like to talk about others, but at the same time if something important is being spread, it spreads quickly and we are proven time and time again we have an enormous support system here in Northeast Iowa. It is cold, but we get to wear our favorite sweaters and scarves,” she says, going on. “For me, a huge pro is being able to see my family on a daily and weekly basis – oh and there are a lot of cows.”

(Have we mentioned she likes cows?)

Valerie’s history in Northeast Iowa is long – she and Josh even set up their studio and business in the building Valerie’s great-great-grandfather built as a furniture store way back in 1925. Plus, it is where her passions were first fostered.

ecow mural 20082

“I have always been interested in art and painting,” she says. “Ever since I was a little girl I was enamored with animals and I dreamed of being a painter.”

It’s safe to say Valerie Miller is officially a painter. Through talent, hard work, and business savvy, the little girl’s dream has become a grown-up reality.

“I am very fortunate that I am able to share my artwork with others and I hope it can help them lighten their day and bring smiles to their faces through the images I paint.”

QUEENIEMiniMooCanvasPrintWinArtMany of those images are of Queenie, Valerie’s favorite cow. So what makes her so special?

“First of all, she is beautiful! I have painted her over and over again – so many times in fact that I keep having to give my paintings of her different names of so I don’t have 20 paintings named Queenie,” Valerie says. “I also like what she represents – she is –was –from a small local family farm and was the matriarch of their herd. She kept her head high – for a cow anyway – and did a fantastic job leading all the cows in her herd in their daily activities.”

Despite branching out in animal varieties (dogs and other pets in the past, plus a horse may have been spotted on a wet studio canvas recently), Valerie doesn’t paint people. And no matter what, cows will continue to hold top billing.

“I feel like I still have thousands of cows left in me to paint,” she says.

The upcoming Northeast Iowa Studio Tour running from October 3–5 (2014) is a great chance to check out Valerie and Josh’s work and gallery at 15 Allamakee Street in Downtown Waukon.

“If any of you readers do get a chance to go on the Studio Tour – you should. We would love to see you in Waukon, of course, but all the artists have been working very hard throughout the year and this is an important weekend for the participants,” Valerie says. “A must-see stop is Nate and Hallie Evans from Allamakee Wood-Fired Pottery. They make amazing pottery, Nate is now offering glass pieces – which are brand-new and pretty cool – and their place has a special feeling all it’s own.”

The Millers are grateful to have friends like the Evans right here in the region, and that activities like the Northeast Iowa Studio Tour happen, along with many other arts initiatives.

“When I was a kid, there wasn’t as many art things as there are now and this is great for everyone,” Valerie says. “The more art, the better our lives.”

———–

Aryn Henning Nichols used to be a bit afraid of cows when she was little, but she’s since recovered. I mean…who’s ever heard of a human-eating cow? That’s right: No one.

Did you know? Supporting other artists is important to the Miller duo, as well as supporting the environment. They are part of an alliance of businesses that collectively give 1% of their annual sales to support a fitting natural environment organization, such as Seed Savers Exchange, which received support this year. And YOU can support their endeavors by “Having a Cow.” Learn more at steelcow.com

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.

XO,

Aryn

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 iowafoodhub.com.