The last week of the 99 County Tour showcased each of the important themes of the monthlong statewide tour. Harboring the American sense of adventure, unearthing the individual stories of small-town neighbors, and emphasizing the vital bond of community collaboration, the 99 County Tour merely echoed the accomplishments of the Heartland’s Hawkwye State.
IT’S IN THE BLOOD
Days nineteen and twenty magnified Iowa’s intimacy. There’s a unique character combination that seems to mix all too well in Iowa: The ability to be both genuine and personable. This concoction carries to the country, yet Iowegians cook it up quite well. Stop number 79 of the tour was on the campus of Drake University. Here, collegiate minds will fertilize the aronia berry bush, which sits beside a cedar shed in the soon-to-open outdoor classroom and community garden. Complimented by the community garden of Pottawattamie County, Drake University represents the 99 County Tour’s high regard for communal cultivation.
We’ll never forget our friend Connie, who personified such community spirit. After hearing about the 99 County Tour and it’s mission, Connie added her own personal touch to the Crawford County stop. Unsure of where to plant the 80th aronia, the 99 County Tour thanked Connie for her hospitality, as she placed a plant in her own backyard. Such eagerness characterizes each stop at Mills, Page, and Fremont County. Every individual we met expressed a genuine interest in our travels; they sympathized with our struggles and shared in our successes. With each bush, these counties felt that they were an important part of the connection. They invested in each other, and recognized the importance of the larger project.
Drops of sweat fell from the foreheads of the 99 County Tour during days twenty-one and twenty-two. Both these busy days represented the rampant and exciting energy that moved the tour forward. Each day was a mark of progress; as the tour continued, we innovated, adapted, and moved forward. Such an a spirit applies to the state. After planting in both Plymouth and Cherokee counties, the 99 County Tour made its way to Clinton, enjoying Johnson, Washington, Muscatine, and Louisa along the way. Though constantly on the move these two days, the 99 County Tour never felt like a passer-by. In Clinton, the 99 County Tour stopped at StarrMatica‘s corporate headquarters. An interactive online learning system, StarrMatica introduces a country-wide platform for computer-based learning.
With companies like Google and MidAmerican Energy investing in Iowa, the state keeps innovating. Taking advantage of its roots while also exploring new markets and technology, Iowan communities seem to mirror a statewide example. StarrMattica represents a small-town idea with national appeal. Jackson and Scott county made up stops ninety-three and ninety-four, emphasizing the importance of small-town communities. Cultivating creativity, these final stops featured some of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of the state.
COMMUNITY AND COLLABORATION
The final day of the 99 County Tour culminated the importance of community for both this tour and the people of Iowa. Stopping in Davis, Appanoose, Marion, Dallas, and Guthrie counties, each of the final five destinations of the 99 County Tour represented individual importance in a broader context. Returning to Warren County, the 99 County Tour planted its final aronia berry bush at La Vida Loca Winery: a restful gathering place for Iowans across the state. Surrounded by friends both old and new, the tour celebrated its final planting on a porch built by small-town hands. Here, we realized the state’s exchange extends beyond a single farm, family, 0r business. It’s about the intersection of community and collaboration, where individuals and organizations big and small, rural and urban stand together, working to grow Iowa. Here at Conversation Starters, we feel honored to have visited all 99 counties of Iowa. We celebrate tremendous stories both in Iowa and across the country through our Virtual Roundtable platform. Next up? Real world roundtables, Community Cookbooks, and other programming from Pennsylvania to New York, to California and more! Here’s to the Heartland. See you on the road.