Posts Tagged: kristine jepsen

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

Seed Starting 101

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Seed Starting: Get your plants growing like a pro
By Kristine Jepsen • Photos courtesy River Root Farm

It begins mid-winter, when the seed catalogs start landing in your mailbox. Any gardener knows all that green abundance is as riveting as, well, porn on those cold nights of frost.

But for all their seeming perfection, the strength of those lovely fruits or flowers was determined months ago through the successful germination and early care of the young plants, says professional grower Katie Prochaska.

River Root Farm familyKatie – alongside her husband, Mike Bollinger – starts thousands of microgreens and vegetable and flower varieties every year at River Root Farm in Decorah.

“There are about six things you really have to address,” says Katie. “Soil, type of container, light and warmth, watering, and, well, human error – or, just paying attention.”

Katie, a Luther College grad who first dug into gardening as a sustainable farming volunteer in the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, has had plenty of opportunity to dial in those basics. She and Mike put in time with the Seed Savers Exchange garden crew, managed the one-acre sustenance garden at the Good Life Center, founded by Helen and Scott Nearing in rural Maine, and later the four-acre market garden of Four Season Farm, the Maine showplace of organic innovators Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. Before moving to Decorah to start their own farm, which features moveable greenhouses pioneered by Coleman and engineered by a sister business, Four Season Tools, Katie and Mike managed gardens and programming for the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“Don’t think I was born with green thumbs, though,” Katie jokes. “In our first garden – in the yard of the house we rented on Broadway Street in Decorah in 2004 – we planted our broccoli in deep shade and failed to realize you have to separate onion starts from the clump they come in to get actual onions. And, we dug up a telephone line just tilling up our little plot. Our only success that year was one – ONE – Mexican Midget tomato plant.”

Here’s how to master the six keys to seedling success:

SOIL

By nature, seeds contain everything they need to sprout, so they don’t require nutrient-dense, bulky soil for germination. Choosing a potting medium that’s light and fluffy makes it easy for roots to find traction and sprouts to push up into the light of day. “Sterile” mixes are best to prevent mold or disease, Katie says. “A lot of times, people might use soil from outside, or compost from their garden, but these are too dense – literally overkill.”

Once emerged, plan to “pot up,” or transplant, seedlings into a combination of sterile potting soil and homemade or purchased compost, or a purchased soil with fertilizer mixed in. The goal is to give your starts easily accessible nutrients – baby food – for 4-6 weeks, prior to planting in the garden, Mike says.

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TYPE OF CONTAINER

“Use any old container – just make sure it has holes in the bottom for drainage,” Katie says. Plants won’t need more than 3-4 inches in height or width before they’re planted outdoors, so keep containers small. Individual yogurt cups work well, in addition to biodegradable peat or coconut containers that can be planted directly in the ground. When setting up your seed starting area, it’s a good idea to put all containers in a shallow tray because you’ll want to bottom-water them once the seedlings send out roots,” Katie suggests. (More on that later.)

In planting the actual seeds, use the size of seed as a rule of thumb, she says. “I often see people ‘burying’ seed, when most need to be only as deep as they are long – hardly covered with dirt, in most cases.”

Another key tip: moisten soil before planting. “It should be uniformly damp but not soggy or dripping,” Katie says, “more like a rag that’s been wrung out.”

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WARMTH & LIGHT

“Warmth and light are the biggies, and they go hand-in-hand,” Katie says, nodding solemnly to make her point. For most seeds, germination doesn’t require any light at all, but gentle heat is necessary to keep things at a constant 70 to 80 degrees until the seedlings emerge. “You can put them on top of the refrigerator, above a radiator, on top of your dryer. Or, you can buy an electric heat mat designed for starts.”

The trick, she says, is to keep the soil uniformly moist and warm until seeds “pop,” which is why many seed-starting kits include a plastic dome that fits on top. You can create this ‘greenhouse effect’ yourself by covering containers in plastic cling wrap, Katie says. “We sow [seeds] in trays on freestanding shelving, then cover the whole thing in a clear mattress bag.” Just be sure to keep the soil surface moist using a hand pump mist sprayer, or even a hand-held bottle with squeeze sprayer, Mike adds.

TomatoesWhen the tiny seedlings poke through the soil surface – this is pivotal – you MUST move them into bright, full spectrum light before they’re 1/2” tall, often within just hours of emerging. If covered in plastic, seedlings will suffocate as they use up the oxygen sealed into their ‘greenhouse,’ and they will stretch and get spindly or ‘leggy,’ searching for daylight. The result is irreparably weak plants, Katie says.

“If you have a really sunny south-facing window, that can work, but honestly, the best thing is to put plants under standard shop lights,” with one cool white fluorescent bulb and the other giving warmer/orange light,” she explains. “You want the plant to be within 3-4 inches of the light source as it grows, which means setting up your growing area so the light can be moved up as the plants get taller.”

This phase of growth requires less heat – most plants don’t need more than 60-70 degrees. It’s important to honor nature’s cycle of light and dark, too, Katie says. “Give them 16-18 hours of light to mimic the length of day in warmer climates, where these seed varieties are native. Then, turn it off. The plants need ‘nighttime’ even though they’re not outdoors yet.”

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WATERING

Bottom-watering, or letting soil take up water through holes in the bottom of containers, is recommended once the seedlings pop up, Katie explains. This cuts down on soil splash, or the splattering of potentially fungus-bearing soil onto the stem and leaves when watered from above. In addition, bottom-watering does not shift the fragile plants around at the soil surface.

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PAYING ATTENTION

“A lot of your success comes in just paying attention – starting with reading the seed packet,” Katie says with a laugh. “The information might vary from company to company, but it’s there for a reason, and each vegetable or flower is unique in its own way.” To plan your garden’s productivity, look at the number of days to maturity. Is it given from seeding or from transplant? And keep in mind that some species really do best with direct seeding outdoors, as suggested, including beets, beans, cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins.

Another important directive? Thinning. “Don’t be afraid to thin,” Katie says. “I understand the temptation: people see that they’ve grown this little green thing, and they don’t want to kill it, but plants need space to grow. Always plant more than you need so you’ll have your target number of the strongest plants after thinning.”

And then there’s the importance of good lighting, again. “Check on your germinating seeds a couple times a day,” she repeats. “Stuff will pop up and be an inch tall in the blink of an eye.” Then, when seedlings are under bright lights, make sure plants don’t burn by growing tall enough to touch the bulbs.

Within just a few short weeks, your greenlings will be ready to join the profusion of plant life known as the growing season in the Midwest. “Moral of the story? Keep at it,” Katie says. “We learn something new from the garden every year.”

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Kristine_Winter15_16After whole decades of tangled tomatoes and limp lettuces, Kristine Jepsen has finally thinned her gardening proclivity to the handful of things her family will readily eat fresh from the garden. She is otherwise happy pay local professionals for their expertise. Read more of her misadventures at kristinejepsen.com.