No, Iowa isn’t the potato state. Deep fried twinkies and bacon perhaps. Iowa can even claim notoriety through its quest for the perfect tenderloin. But Land of the Spuds, we are not. Any lifelong Iowegian has clarified (more than once) that Idaho has the potatoes, and the Buckeyes are from Ohio. Iowans continually have to justify why they live in a flat fly-over state known for pigs, corn and a life-size cow made of butter.
Is it the smell of fresh silage that keeps us here? (Seriously, this is my favorite scent in the world!) Or our propensity to small-town parades? You know the ones…everyone from the winning t-ball team to the local hardware store to the reigning town “queen” has their own float, and kids sit curbside catching the candy thrown their way. The parades begin with the local American Legion and Boy Scouts carrying the flag, and end with the fire trucks and horses. Admit it. Who hasn’t been excited when they’ve caught that little frisbee advertising the town plumbing business?
Iowans have the Cy-Hawk series, and tailgating in Iowa City or Ames before the annual football game rivals the excitement of any Super Bowl. If you’re lucky enough to be in Kinnick Stadium at the end of the first quarter, you turn and wave at the children on the top floor of the hospital overlooking the stadium. This simple action evokes a lump in your throat and a pride in your state that remains long after you shed the bumblebee overalls.
We Iowans know what the four H’s stand for, and many of us have a blue corduroy jacket still hanging in our closet from our high school FFA days. Growing up, most likely you walked beans, detassled corn or picked up rocks from a farmer’s field as a way to earn some money in the summer. Also in that closet is at least one hat advertising your favorite seed corn company.
We may not have the ocean, but in the summer, places like Okoboji and Clear Lake are bursting with people boating and water skiing. Likewise, you won’t be able to pick up seashells along these beaches. Instead you hunt for arrowheads and geodes, our state rock, in the rich farm fields and along the river banks.
We are “Iowa nice” and unconsciously lift our hand and wave as we meet people driving down the highway. We visit over coffee at elevators and convenience stores, and of course, fellowship time after church on Sunday. When a neighbor is sick, we help harvest the corn, feed the livestock, or just bring over a casserole, undoubtedly with meat, potatoes and cream of mushroom soup.
School is scheduled around the state fair where you can find any number of items deep-fried and served on a stick. But as good as fair food is, it has nothing on the fresh sweet corn sold by farmers from the back of their pickups along roads and in parking lots for a couple weeks each summer. Iowans remember the wooden roller coaster and silly silo at Adventureland, and anticipate the announcement of the overnight RAGBRAI stops each year.
Iowa has wineries and breweries. We have town celebrations with names like “Sauerkraut Days,” and tickets at Bacon Fest sell out each year. We have a giant strawberry, a Gothic Farmer, and covered bridges. We are the home to Captain Kirk and to John Wayne. There is a giant sloth in a building adjacent to Iowa’s first capital, and another state university displays the momentous first computer and two swans by the names of Lancelot and Elaine.
It is true that Iowa may not have potatoes or buckeyes, but what we have is something more. For Iowa is not just a state. It is a community, comprised of people with a tradition of hard work and compassion for others…and maybe, just maybe, a love for all things bacon.