January can be a bleak month in southwest Iowa. Low lying clouds can conjure feelings of claustrophobia, and with minimal snow on the ground muted earth tones are pervasive. However, talking with Jessa Bears who, along with her fiancé, Melissa, owns and operates Sycamore Ridge Small Farm LLC, I am reminded that spring will soon return.
When I pulled into Sycamore Ridge Small Farm, located just west of highway 59, south of Shenandoah, I was greeted by her friendly farm dogs. Jessa was outside too, already busy with her morning chores. Jessa walked me around her farmstead, introducing me to her animals. We discussed all the exciting things she has planned for the upcoming season. When many of us are simply surviving the doldrums of winter, waiting for the first glimmer of spring, Jessa is busy planning for her upcoming season. And she has some interesting and new ideas. With the ever-rising cost of food, and concerns about supply chain issues, Jessa has decided that this season she will offer what she is calling Garden Starter Kits. A Garden Starter Kit is a terrific idea for someone who has an area, even a small area, to plant some veggies, but maybe they are intimidated by the process. Her Garden Starter Kits are offered in three sizes, small, medium and large. With the kit you get vegetable and herb starts, the number depending on the kit size you purchase. The kits also come with optional add-ons: rabbit manure fertilizer, flower starts, and additional herb starts. What I like most about her Garden Starter Kits is that with the kit purchase, Jessa is offering her expertise. She is willing to answer questions about the plants and gardening process, hoping to eliminate doubts that may stop someone from planting a garden. However, these kits are not limited to those that are garden newbies, maybe you don’t have the space or time to grow your own starts. If that’s the case, talk to Jessa. She has you covered.
Another exciting and colorful idea that Sycamore Ridge is offering for the upcoming season is what Jessa is referring to as a Flower Experience. The Flower Experience gives you a chance to visit Jessa and Melissa’s farm and cut fresh flowers for bouquets. This season they will be growing nine fifty-foot rows of zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos and more. You can pre-purchase the Flower Experience now for yourself, or maybe as a gift to a friend, or loved one. This Valentine’s Day consider giving someone a gift, or an experience, that keeps giving through the growing season.
In addition to vegetables and flowers, the ladies at Sycamore Ridge have a diverse group of animals that call the farm home. They raise Flemish Giant rabbits, a large breed historically valued for their fur and meat. They raise Nigerian Dwarf goats and sell the offspring. A flock of laying hens provide eggs for their family, and when there is excess Sycamore Ridge sells them to the public. A pig, named Gir, and Macy, a brown cow, are part of the farm family too, and are considered more pet-like than livestock.
Visiting with Jessa was energizing and hopeful. She is enthusiastic about her farm and about helping people realize the benefits of plants and purchasing locally raised vegetables and proteins. When I asked Jessa why she enjoys farming, her answer was simple and understandable, “I like it because it makes me happy”. This happiness is apparent in her creativity and willingness to discuss her farm.
If you would like to meet Jessa and swap seeds, talk gardening or flowers, or if you are simply longing for the green to return and the feel of soil on your fingertips, come to the Annual Southwest Iowa Seed Swap this Saturday, January 28th from 11am-2pm at the River Market 190, 2025 190th Street, between Shenandoah and Clarinda. Bring some seeds to swap, or just come and meet the farmer. If you need more information prior to Saturday call or text Jessa at (712) 309-1113.
To learn more about what Jessa and Melissa have to offer visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SycamoreRidgeIA or their easy to navigate and shoppable webpage: https://www.sycamoreridgesmallfarm.com/
In addition, Sycamore Ridge Small Farm LLC products can be found at Shepherds Frock in Sidney, and the Red Oak Farmers Market.
Last year (only two weeks ago!), Golden Hills RC&D suggested a host of activities and locations to enjoy the winter wonderland of western Iowa. For those that prefer to keep cozy and warm during winter, those suggestions probably got the cold shoulder. Freeze not, however, as there are plenty of fun and interesting indoor activities to keep you busy (and warm!) deep into winter.
Botany and Ecology Virtual Workshops
For starters, Golden Hills RC&D is offering another series of botany and ecology virtual workshops. These online classes are a great way to spend an evening learning from experts on topics relevant to western Iowa from the comfort of your couch. All sessions are on Thursdays at 7pm, beginning January 26, and last between one to one and a half hours. Each class costs $10 and pre-registration is required. For more details and registration, visit the Golden Hills RC&D Plant Identification website, which also has recordings and other resources from previous classes.
Cottage Foods & Home Baking Laws Informational Meeting
Staying in house, Golden Hills RC&D is partnering with Cass County Extension and Cass County Local Food Policy Council to host an informational meeting about the changing cottage food and home baking laws. Food safety expert Kurt Rueber from the Iowa Food Bureau will be there to inform and answer questions. The event, free and open to the public, is on February 4 from 1pm to 4pm at the Cass County Community Center (805 W 10th St, Atlantic, IA 50022).
Writing the Loess Hills: Letting Landscape Guide the Pen
Kelly Madigan, an author and Loess Hills resident, is leading an online writing workshop sponsored by Larksong Writers Place. Kelly will use a variety of examples, prompts, and exercises to explore the craft of writing and the unique Loess Hills landform. The workshop will meet on Zoom on five Tuesdays in January and February. Register on Larksong to enroll in the class.
Thursday Night Trivia at Keg Creek Brewing Company
Keep warm with a heated session of trivia at Keg Creek Brewing Company, located just off the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. Test your knowledge of Netflix, sports, game shows, geography, movies, history, superheroes, and more. Enjoy one of Keg Creek’s delicious brews as you compete for prizes. Held every Thursday at 7pm at the brewery near Glenwood (22381 221st St., Glenwood, IA).
Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center
If the winter tree identification hike sounds too chilly for you, head inside the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center for activities focused on conservation and environmental issues. Coffee and Conservation is a monthly series with a presentation and chat about conservation issues; an optional outdoor activity follows the presentation. Participation is limited, so pre-register by calling (712) 258-0838 or emailing email@example.com. The nature center also hosts yoga classes, children’s programming, and other indoor events; check the calendar of events on the Woodbury Parks website.
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center
Also on the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway in Sioux City, the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center offers winter programming for all ages. There are activities for kids on Saturdays, from making STEM-inspired snowflakes to learning how to use a compass. Sunday programs offer a diverse course of live events, including a “Winter on the Prairie” presentation by historian Russ Gifford and musical performances by Jill Miller and Bob Bovee. Check the center’s upcoming events for full programming.
UnleashCB has two great articles with recommendations for indoor activities in the Council Bluffs metro area: Indoor Activities in Council Bluffs and Winter Family Activities in Council Bluffs. Read them to check out their suggestions!
Art Galleries, Museums, Theaters, and Other Attractions
Winter is a great time to explore the art galleries, museums, theaters, and other indoor attractions on the three scenic byways in western Iowa. Below is a sampling of these attractions on the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, Western Skies Scenic Byway, and Glacial Trail Scenic Byway.
Loess Hills National Scenic Byway
- 528 Pierce Street , Sioux City, IA 51101
- For showtimes, check their web page
- The Sioux City Orpheum was designed by the nationally known Chicago firm of Rapp & Rapp and constructed in 1927 as part of the Orpheum Circuit. The major developer and promoter for the theatre was local Sioux City businessman, Arthur Sanford. It was the largest theatre in the State of Iowa at its time. This beautifully restored 1927 theatre offers a variety of entertainment events, including the symphony, Broadway shows, movies and concerts.
Sioux City Art Center
- 225 Nebraska Street, Sioux City, Iowa 51101
- Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 10:00-4:00; Thursday 10:00-9:00, Sunday 1:00-4:00
- The Sioux City Art Center's mission is to bring the excitement of the visual arts to the community and its visitors through education, exhibitions, and permanent collection programming. Its iconic three-storied glass atrium houses permanent collection and traveling exhibitions, the Junior League Hands On! Gallery, and the Grant Wood Corn Room Mural, restored from the Martin Hotel Ballroom. Art Classes for all ages are held in the Art Center's Gilchrist Learning Center.
Sioux City Public Museum
- 607 4th Street, Sioux City, IA 51101
- Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00–5:00; Sunday, 1:00–5:00
- The Sioux City Public Museum is a museum about the history and culture of Sioux City, Iowa. Displays include a video about the city's history, Native American artifacts, pioneer artifacts, historic transportation vehicles, agriculture, industry, geology and fossils.
Sergeant Floyd River Museum & Welcome Center
- 1000 Larsen Park Road, Sioux City, IA 51103
- Daily, 10:00–4:00
- Displays feature rare photos, artifacts and dioramas. Lewis & Clark information, tri-state information, and a gift shop.
Drop Zone Family Fun Center
- 3840 Stadium Dr., Sioux City
- Tuesday–Thursday, 4:00–7:00; Friday, 12:00PM–8:00PM; Saturday, 12:00–9:00; Sunday, 12:00–7:00
- Drop Zone Family Fun Center provides amazing fun for the entire family! The 23,300 square foot building features Open Jump Trampolines, Trampoline Dodgeball and Basketball, Ninja Course, Laser Tag, Redemption Games with full redemption prize counter, Toddler Area with a Kangaroo jumper and three-level jungle gym, “Time Out” Lounge with our 4D Virtual Reality, and a Snack Bar with plenty of food and beverage options! There are also party rooms to celebrate a birthday or group event!
Tilt Studio Family Fun Center
- 4480 Sergeant Road, Sioux City, IA 51106
- Monday–Thursday, 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM; Friday–Saturday, 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM; Sunday, 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
- Tilt Studio Family Fun Center in the Southern Hills Mall is action-packed fun for all ages. Arcade, laser tag, parties, and so much more. Play an exciting game of laser tag, bumper cars, or challenge everyone to a round of mini bowling or mini-golf. Grab a snack before playing your favorite video, ticket, or merchandise games.
Pizza Ranch FunZone Arcade
- 3116 Floyd Blvd, Sioux City, IA 51108
- Daily, 11:00–8:30
- Play the most exciting games and win sweet prizes at the Sioux City Pizza Ranch FunZone Arcade. And when you’ve worked up an appetite, refuel with pizza and the buffet.
RailsWest Railroad Museum
- 1512 S Main St, Council Bluffs, IA
- Saturdays 11:00–4:00, Sundays 1:00–4:00
- Restored 1899 Rock Island Depot features railroad artifacts, Pottawattamie County artifacts and multiple railcars guests can walk through. The "Freedom with Honor" Eagle of Honor bronze sculpture was installed and dedicated in a public plaza adjacent to the museum in late 2015. Group tours by appointment. Listed on the National Historic Register.
Union Pacific Museum
- 200 Pearl Street, Council Bluffs, IA 51503
- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 10:00–6:00
- Located in historic downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa, this museum is a great place for friends and family to come and learn about the Union Pacific Railroad. The museum is housed in a historic Carnegie Library building. Visitors can explore an extensive compilation of items from 150 years of our nation's western history, including artifacts, photographs, documents and equipment.
Mills County Historical Museum
- 20 Lake Drive, Glenwood, IA 51534
- Thursday & Friday, 10:00–2:00; Saturday, 10:00–4:00; Sunday, 1:00–4:00
- Journey through 150 years of history when you visit the Mills County Historical Museum in Glenwood, IA. The museum showcases a time when houses, farms, railroads, businesses, and schools were being developed in the area. As you tour the museum, you can see changes in transportation and agriculture along with the progress of family life through home furnishings and clothing displays. You can also discover the histories of multiple communities within the county, including Glenwood, Malvern, Mineola, Pacific Junction, Hastings, Emerson, Henderson, and Silver City. The museum showcases seven historic buildings from the county that you can explore. The main museum has undergone recent remodeling and features two floors of displays, including the largest showcase of Prehistoric Native American artifacts in the state. The other outbuildings include a reconstructed peg barn, community jail, relocated outhouse, rural one-room schoolhouse, large machinery hall, and Burlington caboose.
Western Skies Scenic Byway
Rialto Movie Theater
- 405 E Erie St Missouri Valley, IA 51555
- For opening hours and showtimes, check Facebook
- Small-town cinema with small-town prices: $7 adults, $5 seniors 62+, $5 children under 12. Best to call the Rialto and confirm showings and times. Concessions are available.
Shelby County Historical Museum
- 1805 Morse Avenue, Harlan, IA 51537
- Monday-Friday, 8:00–4:00
- Explore thousands of artifacts in the four building complex and discover the rich history of Shelby County through exhibits, programs, and events.
Harlan Community Theatre
- 1208 Cyclone Ave Harlan, IA 51537
- For showtimes, check their Facebook page
- The Harlan Community Theatre will be putting on four showings of “Boeing, Boeing”: February 3 and 4 in Harlan, February 7 in Manning, and February 10 in Dunlap. Check the Facebook page for updates on ticket availability and showtimes.
- 621 Court St Harlan, IA 51537
- For opening hours and showtimes, check Facebook
- Featuring digital sound & projection on all 4 screens and small-town prices
- 2104 Broadway, Elk Horn, IA, United States, 51531
- Monday-Saturday 10:00–5:00, Sunday 12:00–4:00
- Once known as an egg candling business, the Egg Krate has antiques, collectibles, vintage items, furniture, tools, Danish baked goods, local honey, jams, and more!
Danish Windmill & Welcome Center
- 4038 Main St, Elk Horn, IA
- Monday-Saturday 9:00–4:00, Sunday 12:00–4:00
- The Danish Windmill is a working museum, showing visitors the inside workings of a historic mill built in Nørre Snede, Denmark, in 1848. It was brought to America in pieces where it was lovingly rebuilt and restored to working order in the Danish village of Elk Horn by community volunteers in 1976 in honor of their Danish ancestors.
Museum of Danish America
- 2212 Washington Street, Elk Horn, IA 51531
- Monday-Saturday 10:00–4:00, Sunday 1:00–4:00
- Three floors of exhibits, gift shop, 35-acre prairie restoration park with interpretive signage, walking trail, early 1900s homesteader's cabin, Danish outdoor fitness equipment, and genealogy center.
- 318 Broadway Street, Audubon, IA 50025
- For opening hours and showtimes, check their web page or Facebook
- Fully renovated movie theater that is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday by volunteers. All movies are $4 (cash only). Concessions are also available.
Audubon Recreation Center
- 703 Southside Ave, Audubon, IA 50025
- Tuesday–Thursday, 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM; Friday–Saturday, 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM; Sunday, 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
- If you are looking to shed a few pounds or like bowling a few rounds, Audubon Recreation Center provides a unique all-in-one experience. With a half court basketball area, racquetball court, fitness classes, eight-lanes of bowling, soft play area, and arcade you are guaranteed to have a great time!
Art on State
- 320 State St, Guthrie Center, IA 50115
- Tuesday-Friday 10:00–5:00, Saturday 10:00–2:00
- Artisan gallery and gift shop with artwork on display and for sale made by Guthrie County Arts Council member artists. Pottery, painting, photography, jewelry, woodworking and metalwork, as well as local honey and Iowa wines are all available in the store. Various classes scheduled throughout the year.
The Stuart Fremont Theatre
- 124 N Fremont Street, Stuart, IA 50220
- Daily from 6pm-9pm, as well as 1pm-4pm on weekends
- The Stuart Fremont Theatre shows first-run movies in Stuart. Stop in for a big theater experience in a small-town atmosphere. The theater features one full-size screen and seats 90 people with top-of-the-line digital projection and 7.1 surround sound. For showtimes, check their website.
Glacial Trail Scenic Byway
Prairie Heritage Center
- 4931 Yellow Ave., Peterson, IA 51047
- Tuesday-Friday 9:00–4:00, Saturday 1:00–4:00
- Indoor archery is back this winter. Located in the basement at the Prairie Heritage Center from 6-8pm starting January 31. All materials will be provided for this free activity.
- 110 S Main St, Paullina, IA 51046
- For opening hours and showtimes, check their web page or Facebook page
- The Wonderland Theater is a non-profit, volunteer-operated movie theater seating 186. The theater was built in 1910. Come experience a movie in this retro building! Admission is just $5 for adults and $3 for kids. Plus, bargain deals on pop and popcorn. Movies show Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights at 7:30 p.m.
Sanford Museum and Planetarium
- 117 E Willow St., Cherokee, IA 51012
- Monday–Friday 9:00–5:00, Saturday–Sunday 12:00–5:00
- The Sanford Museum and Planetarium has exhibits and activities on a variety of subjects including: archaeology, art, astronomy, geology, history, natural nistory, and paleontology. There is a planetarium and a variety of public programs, which are held every Sunday and Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. Admission is free.
American 3 Theatre
- 108 East Main Street, Cherokee, IA
- For opening hours and showtimes, check their web page or Facebook page