Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Insects: spiders, and BIG worms

Fall brings colored leaves and cool breezes, bright blue skies and flashy yellow goldenrod.  It also brings spiders and worms - insects of all kinds. Quite often into the house. Staying ahead of the spider webs forming along the ceiling and window sills is a daily battle.  Let it be said, I'm not a fan.

But morning sun reflecting through the dew drops clinging to a spider web in the garden is sure to cause me to marvel. And this big guy crawling up our steps - how could I not think this is one of the coolest things I've seen this year?

Longer than my index finger and bigger around, this caterpillar crawled all the way up the steps, then turned and crawled down. I don't know what he will become. Maybe a massive Luna moth? If any one reading this knows, please tell me!

The October issue of Smithsonian magazine reports that even though caterpillars appear to walk in a wavelike way that starts at the back and moves forward, in fact research shows that caterpillars actually move by thrusting their innards forward, then the rest of the body catches up. "Gut sliding," they call it.

There you have it. Always something new to learn about and marvel at.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting a foot in the farming door

I'm used to traditional agriculture. Though the farm I grew up on was a small family farm, we milked cows, raised pigs, grew corn. The traditional crops and livestock you think of when you think of Iowa agriculture.  When organic farming came on the scene, I viewed it as serving a niche, targeting a small group of people with a lot of disposable income. I wasn't thinking broadly enough I learned as I worked on an article on sustainability for the latest issue of The Iowan.

Dr. Linda Barnes who teaches biology at Marshalltown Community College has spearheaded a new program that includes organic farming, but is much more. Called COMIDA, the program is a way into farming for people who don't have a family already in farming or the money to make the massive investment in land and equipment required to get into farming the traditional way.

COMIDA is based on and teaches sustainable agriculture. As Barnes says, "Good sustainable agriculture views the farm as an ecosystem. All components contribute to the health of the whole system, including the economic success of the farmer."

Developed in cooperation with the ISU Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, COMIDA stands for County of Marshall Investing in Diversified Agriculture. COMIDA also means 'meal' in Spanish.

The COMIDA cooperative links farmers to consumers, distributing products produced by the cooperative through restaurants and schools, at farmers' markets and through an online farmers market.

Talking with Linda and Norman McCoy (COMIDA program director, left) gave me a whole new appreciation for 'organic' and 'sustainable' and what those can mean to new farmers and all of us consumers.

To read more about this program, see the entire article in the Sept/Oct issue of The Iowan.

Monday, September 20, 2010

See where the artists work

Creating art is  a solitary venture. But creating comes full circle when artists share their work with the public. That sharing often inspires another surge of creativity.

Art fairs give us a chance to meet and talk with artists, but they don't let us see how and where the artists do what they do.  If you'd like to see where art gets made, northeast Iowa artists give you a unique opportunity in early October.

Forty-two Decorah-area artists open their studios during the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio tour October 1-3.  All of the artists live within 35 miles of Decorah. Their studios are plotted on three loops.  You could see them all over three days. But then you might get engrossed in how one artist works and spend the day talking. You'll be inspired. And so will they.

This photo is courtesy of Nate Evans, the artist. For more information check out the Oct/Sept issue of The Iowan and

Thursday, September 16, 2010

All about perspective

Politics, issues, life - how we think about things depends on our perspective. Even 'truth' often depends on perspective.  As I wrote several pieces for the latest issue of The Iowan magazine, I realized they were all about changing perspective.

One item focused on two of Iowa's kaleidoscope makers who've taken what I viewed as a fun childhood toy to the level of fine art.  Both of these artists appreciate the ability of kaleidoscopes to help viewers change perspectives. Says Leonard Olson of Pomeroy who took up kaleidoscope making after he had a heart attack, "Kaleidoscopes provide a valuable metaphor for art. Just when you think you've encountered the most beautiful image possible, a slight shift changes everything."

Peggy Kittelson, who creates kaleidoscopes near Decorah with her husband Steve, adds, "Kaleidoscopes are great for relieving stress." She advises looking through one at the end of the day because you can't help but see things differently.

The kaleidoscope above called "Genesis" was created by the Kittelsons. The photo is courtesy of Terri Downing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A believer at last

I enjoyed my first Blizzard this past week.  Yep, that's right. Twenty-five years after Dairy Queen introduced the candy-laced ice cream treats so thick they can serve them upside down, I finally had one.

Since ice cream is my all-time favorite desert, it's a little surprising I never gave in to the Blizzard. But even a small Blizzard looked like too much to me. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of these world-favorites, DQ introduced a limited-time mini Blizzard. Finally, finally, I couldn't resist. I stepped up, puzzled over the long list of flavor options and ordered raspberry truffle.

As I savored it, I had to laugh at myself. As a marketer, I'm well aware of the challenge for companies introducing new products and trying to lure people to use them. They face the Adoption-Diffusion challenge.

The theory of Adoption-Diffusion addresses the speed with which people will adopt innovation. People fall into several general categories: Innovators (think about people who couldn't wait to get their hands on a Kindle), Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, Laggards.  Plotted out, people in these categories form a bell curve. Roughly 16% constitute the Laggards - those who will resist an innovation to the bitter end.

Truthfully, I've never considered myself a laggard. Certainly not when it comes to ice cream! But there you are. Twenty-five years later, there are still brand new customers out there. Personally, I'm glad DQ didn't give up on me. Proves the value of persistence in communication, doesn't it?

My second DQ mini Blizzard was banana cream pie. What's next?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No buffalo in my prairie

Whenever we visit the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa, we look for the buffalo. We have not been disappointed this year. The herd now numbers around 100 and it's a real treat to see these impressive animals - sometimes very close up.

At the Refuge, you can drive through an area where buffalo and elk roam freely. It's advisable to drive slowly because you may top a hill and find a buffalo crossing the road.

The elk are more difficult to spot. But on a recent trip, they were out and about, too.  If you go, the best time to see these native animals is near dusk.

My little prairie will never support wildlife like these, but it's fun to imagine - and to fuel my imagination with glimpses of the real thing so close to home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Always something new

It's fall in the prairie, but that doesn't mean we're done looking at new flowers. In fact, we appear to just be starting with many. Yes, the grasses are holding sway, but fresh blooms are opening everywhere.

Goldenrod is new. From reading my seed list, I know I can look for three different kinds. Curiously, the Goldenrod I found does not match the images of any of those on my list. This one is Tall Goldenrod. I'll keep looking for the ones I seeded into the prairie and enjoy this native plant that came on its own.

Almost everyone who sees Goldenrod comments that now we'll have allergies. Poor Goldenrod. It gets a bad rap. From what I've read, seasonal allergies are caused by ragweed.

Blue Vervain is also new. The plant is only about two feet tall. But the book says it will grow to six feet. Next year.

Cup Plant. I've been seeing these plants develop and mistakenly identified them as Compass Plants. But it's definitely a Cup Plant. I'm told the Native Americans used the leaves as a cup to drink water - hence the name.

Unlike domestic garden plants that flower during a relatively narrow window each year, not all prairie plants appear to bloom on such a rigid schedule. Cup Plants, for instance, bloom summer through fall. This plant only emerged in mid-summer and began blooming a couple of weeks ago.

I joined some friends for a walk at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge prairie this past weekend. Based on what I saw there, I can tell we're not done yet. My prairie will be giving me something new to look at for weeks to come.