Big Grove 2015 Highlights



Having yesterday off work at the home, farm and auto supply store, I made a trip to the grocery store and considered last year. Here are some highlights for interested readers.

Reading list.

A key realization was most of my reading — and I still do a lot — is short articles, mostly on my mobile phone or desktop computers. Of the 10 paper books I read, no regrets — I learned from each of them.

I mentioned in my birthday post, the education and empowerment of women is emerging into a new importance, so the Kristoff/WuDunn book Half the Sky was a better motivator than the others.

Here’s the list with most recently read first.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King; This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate by Naomi Klein; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32 by William E. Leuchtenburg; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; 1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt by Juliet Barker; Poetry City: A Literary Remembrance of Iowa City, Iowa by Dave Morice; Jewelweed by David Rhodes; and The Robber Barons by Matthew Josephson.


For the third year I edited Blog for Iowa while Trish Nelson took a summer break. I posted about all five Democratic presidential candidates and got a press pass to attend the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Celebration July 17 where they spoke. The grab bag of political, environmental, labor and other topics can be found here. The writing speaks for itself.

The post that received the most attention was 5 Reasons Jim Webb’s Stock is Up. There was a vacuum of Iowa coverage of the Jim Webb presidential campaign and my post seemed to fill it for a brief while. Even the candidate posted about my article in social media.

The most popular posts at On Our Own: Sustainability in a Turbulent World were ones written in past years. Autobiography in 1,000 Words, written in 2013, gets consistent, daily page views.  Rounding out the top five for the year were my post announcing reasons to caucus for Hillary Clinton in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus; Climate Change in 200 Words, written in January 2014; my letter to U.S. Senator Joni Ernst advocating for the agreement with Iran over their nuclear weapons program; and a post from 2013 with three photos of some summer pest problems. Readers increasingly recognized me in public because of my writing.

Newspaper Writing

I filed 59 stories with the Iowa City Press Citizen in 2015. When my editor, Emily Nelson, left the newspaper July 2 after a long tenure, it was a signal that the end was approaching. This was confirmed when my new editor, Tricia Brown left Sept. 11. My last story ran Oct. 16.

I covered diverse topics by taking whatever assignment was offered at the Press Citizen. By interviewing startup business owners, people working for non-profits, and many others I met new people.

My favorite newspaper article was about Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s visit to Local Harvest CSA. It was also the most fun to write. My article about Bobby and Kayla Thompson and their new hair styling salon in downtown Iowa City was the most popular in 2015, receiving more than 2,500 online views after publication. My advance article about the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., published December 2014, garnered the most online views during my one-year tenure with over 3,000. Print circulation of the paper was about 10,000 according to Gannett’s 2014 annual report.

I don’t have a burning desire to do more newspaper work. It was lowly paid for the investment of time. The monetary income, though slight, went to good use. Freelancing with the Press Citizen helped me realize the importance of having an editor.


Checks came in from nine different employers and contracts during the year with the largest share of income (65 percent) being from Club Demonstration Services, a part time, no benefits job I left in September. Income from CDS will be replaced with income from the home, farm and auto supply store, a full-time job with a benefits package that began Nov. 12. Every other income producing activity was much smaller, with Gannett (15 percent), the apple orchard, the community supported agriculture project, freelance writing and editing, and stipends from my elected office work completing the picture. As the new year begins, I receive only one paycheck, with three other seasonal jobs planned along with my last year of elected office. I need another ten grand in contracts or employment to make financial ends meet this year.

Gardening and Farm Work

The 2015 garden was as productive as it’s ever been. My work at the CSA and the apple orchard continued to teach me new things about growing and selling produce. The garden and both farm jobs are part of the 2016 plan. Combined with related kitchen work, local food is becoming a part of daily life.

In October I decided to write a longer piece — a memoir of my time in the local food movement since retiring from my transportation career. In the article On Not Being Vachel Lindsay, I explained:

The first subject will be a memoir about the evolution of my understanding of local food over the last six years. The goal is a 25,000-word essay that can be combined with other short pieces into a self-published book. Book sales will become a way for people to contribute financially to my work at events.

After leaving CDS in September, it was optimistic to believe I could write 1,000 words a day while preoccupied with a search for income. As the year ended, and now that I have an income base with the work at the home, farm and auto supply store, I expect to resume this writing. I drafted about 6,000 words last year and posted a snippet here.

On New Year’s Eve I reviewed my activity diary and found a disproportionate number of personal contacts were related to politics. My work at Blog for Iowa got me involved, and I expect it will continue. Once we get past the Iowa caucuses I hope to reduce my involvement in politics to a more sustainable level.

In 2015 I spent time writing almost every day. With the practice, I’m confident something good will come of it in 2016.

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