Plus, catch a replay of June's Fearless Friday event
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Good morning and happy Monday! We’re wrapping up this month’s topic of advocacy and community involvement by introducing you to four women who serve as community organizers. Note: We’re only running excerpts of our conversations with them, so please check out the full story on our website! We also have a replay from last week’s Fearless Friday event.

Have a great week!

–  Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

P.S.: I'm working on a future story about the monthly child tax credit and I'm hoping to talk with a few families about how the credit will affect their lifestyles and monthly budgets. If you are interested and willing to share your story, please reply to this email! Thank you in advance.

Fearless receives national recognition as best specialty newsletter

The Business Record was nationally recognized with three awards from the industry association of leading business publications last week. Among them, this newsletter won Gold for the best specialty newsletter in the Alliance of Area Business Publishers 2021 Editorial Excellence Awards. The association is made up of members from business publications in major U.S. cities.

"This newsletter stands apart in its commitment to a large and continuously growing facet of the publication’s readership," the judges wrote. "The staff uses its editorial content to connect readers while acknowledging the real-life challenges that come with leadership in today’s environment. Editors share a strong voice that sets a tone offering actionable advice while encouraging community and comradeship."

In the past year, we’ve worked hard to set strategy around how we put our long-held values of diversity, equity and inclusion into action every single day. We are pleased by the recognition of our Fearless newsletter, which was launched in November as part of a larger initiative to help Iowa women succeed in work and life. Our team put countless hours into strategizing and listening to our audience to formulate what Fearless ultimately ended up being. Fearless Editor Emily Blobaum uses her passion and talents to make the newsletter outstanding each week with key focuses on making it intersectional so that all women, gender-nonconforming individuals and men can feel a part of it.

Without our members, none of this would be possible. Support of our work means more than any award ever could. Consider becoming a member if you aren’t already, and as always, feel free to give us feedback or ideas at any time so that we can continue serving you.

-- Emily Barske, Business Record editor

‘All we have is each other’
Meet four community organizers in Iowa
Editor’s note: This is a sneak peek at an upcoming two-part series on mutual aid organizations in Iowa produced by the Business Record in conjunction with Fearless. While mutual aid organizations are not new, the work has become more known, thanks in part to social media and renewed calls to action in the social justice space. Mutual aid organizers strive to create better communities for all, which affects all sectors of our state. Thousands of Iowans contribute to and lead mutual aid efforts – and we could only talk to a handful of them for this series. Have a story idea for future coverage? Reach out to Business Record Editor Emily Barske at

The idea of mutual aid has been around for centuries. The way people define it differs slightly, but if there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s that mutual aid is predicated on a high level of community involvement.

Activist and law professor Dean Spade wrote in his book "Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)" that mutual aid is collective coordination to meet needs, usually from an awareness that the systems that are currently in place aren’t going to meet them.

In Iowa, organizers have pooled together resources for a variety of community needs for decades – whether it was during the farm crisis or during the current pandemic.

As part of the Business Record’s series, we talked with a handful of community organizers about the work they do. Below are excerpts of the conversations we had with four women who lead mutual aid organizations across the state.

Look for the full series in upcoming issues of the Business Record.

The Supply Hive: ‘We’re more than just food. We want to do more.’
Supply Hive co-founders Aaliyah Quinn and Zakariyah Hill. Photo by Joe Crimmings.
June 2, 2020, was the fifth day of what would become a long, hot, humid summer filled with protests, rallies and vigils dedicated to victims of police brutality. When Zakariyah Hill woke up that morning, she called her longtime friend Aaliyah Quinn.

Hill and Quinn had been out on the streets with cardboard signs, chanting and marching with hundreds of other Des Moines-area community members. At the end of each day, they were exhausted. They saw a need for food and water.

"What if we collect donations, get friends together, go shopping for groceries and then make sandwiches in my backyard?" Hill asked Quinn.

After raising $1,000 a few hours after posting QR codes linked to their Venmo and CashApp accounts on social media, Hill, Quinn and a handful of other friends drove to Sam’s Club and bought a trunkload of ingredients to make 500 turkey, ham and PB&J sandwiches for people participating in a march to Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie’s home.

From there, their organizing efforts grew exponentially.

"We thought it was going to last a week or until the sandwiches ran out, but people just wanted more from us," Hill said.

By the end of the month, Hill and Quinn had filed articles of incorporation to become a 501(c)(3) and became the Supply Hive – the name serving as an homage to honeybee qualities of teamwork, community, sustainability and joy.

Since then, the Supply Hive has hosted and led more than two dozen events and initiatives, including fundraising drives, a fashion show, community events, educational Zoom presentations and a community garden.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What is your mission?

Hill: Our mission is to provide a space of nourishment through extraordinary times in order to create leaders in local communities. It took some time to think of that. Nourishment is the key word there. Nourishment comes in all of these different forms and everybody needs it. It started off as food. That’s how we made a name for ourselves and we still want to keep that up, but we want to explore other areas and niches. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that anybody we come in contact with, they come off as a better leader, that they can self-sustain and they can make an impact on others in their neighborhoods. This will get the whole domino effect of mutual aid going throughout the city, the state, the country, the world.

Quinn: I would like to add that with building our next leaders, there are going to be times where we’re not going to be able to be there for the Supply Hive so that’s why we’re trying to build the youth and our next leaders so they can continue this work.

Why do you do what you do?

Hill: If not me, then who? I say that to myself all of the time. It gives me motivation to get out of bed and do the things that I do. I could easily just give up and say that someone else can take care of things. I have a lot of hope and a romanticized version of what the future could be, so I stick to that. I stick to the positive and the love and all of the good and fluffy things that could be. I wake up every day and make it a goal to get closer to the future.

Quinn: I would have to agree. If I wasn’t doing anything else, I wouldn’t be doing enough. I feel like the Supply Hive closes the thoughts of me not doing enough to change and help the community. I’m also a mother, so I do it for my son as well, because I want him to grow up in a Des Moines where there’s mutual aid and resources and opportunities for him.

Sweet Tooth Farm and Community Fridge: ‘Fresh food should not be a luxury item’
Sweet Tooth Farm and Fridge organizer Monika Owczarski with two of her kids, Grace and William. Photo by Joe Crimmings.
The story of how Monika Owczarski turned a dilapidated park into a community farm could have come straight out of the writer’s room of NBC’s "Parks and Recreation."

When Owczarski and her husband moved to the River Bend neighborhood in 2013, their house sat a few yards north of Royal Park – a fifth-of-an-acre "pocket park" that was once home to a basketball court, swing set and slide.

The park, dedicated in the 1970s, had deteriorated to the point where it became an empty lot where criminal activity took place.

"The park was essentially a huge litter box," Owczarski said.

She approached the city of Des Moines and said that something needed to be done. After years of working with the Parks and Recreation Department and talking with neighbors, she presented them a few options: The city could build a new house, put in a new playground, or let an adjacent property owner lease the space.

The city chose the lease arrangement.

Suddenly in the position of being a new mother who left her job working in a nonprofit mental health care setting to stay at home because of unaffordable child care costs, Owczarski found herself thinking about what she could do with the space.

At the same time, she recognized there was a severe lack of healthy food in the neighborhood and felt a responsibility to do everything she could to provide nutritious food to the community.

"[Before C Fresh Market was built,] the closest grocery store was the liquor store on the corner," Owczarski explained. "So back then, kids would either go to Children and Family Urban Movement [CFUM] for dinner or walk to the liquor store and get Takis and a hot dog."

After months of negotiations the city rewrote the lease to allow Owczarski to operate a commercial garden in the space, and in 2017 Sweet Tooth Farm was born.

Now Owczarski farms on 3 acres on plots spread throughout the River Bend neighborhood, and in December 2020 she organized the launch of Des Moines’ first community refrigerator.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What was the driving force behind Sweet Tooth Farm?

I’m a pastor’s kid so I’ve always been thinking and talking about helping people, but in somewhat of a tangible and non-concrete way. When we moved here, we felt it important not to be the white people who asked the kids in the park to go home every night. So we did a lot of hanging out with the kids. I would go and serve breakfast at CFUM and build relationships with people. In having conversations with people about food, I realized that there were incredible gaps in food knowledge and access. I can drive wherever I want to get food. A lot of people in this neighborhood get their food on Saturday mornings at the church or by riding the bus to the grocery store.

If you’ve never had a garden or your family has never lived in a house, how would you know that carrots grow underground? How would you know that a pickle starts off as a cucumber? Kids were shocked at that stuff and the fact that there could be yellow and purple tomatoes.

That snowballed into starting a small farm. It felt like something we should be doing. At the beginning, I had no structure. I had no farm stand. With farming, you take a lot of risks, you try a lot of things and you learn a hell of a lot. There’s this phrase that I love, and it’s "If you want to be something, you have to just be it; and if you want to do something, you have to start doing it." That message goes both for the fridge as well as the farm.

I have access to privilege. I have the privilege that I could maneuver and work within the city government to get them to let me do this. I’ve been working hard to use that privilege to help others to do this or figure out a way to do this, and to make sure I’m doing my best to grow food.

You led the launch of the Sweet Tooth Community Fridge in the latter half of 2020. Tell me about that.

As the pandemic hit, my neighbors and I saw an exacerbation of a need for food distribution in our neighborhood. CFUM wasn’t allowed in their building due to pandemic restrictions, so we relied on neighbors, restaurants, and different organizations and churches to continue their dinner program. While that was happening, I was making 100 portions of pasta in my house for CFUM and I was listening to a podcast called "Racist Sandwich" about community fridges. I thought to myself that providing groceries would be much easier than pulling together 100 hot meals every night from our kitchens. I texted Aubrey [Alvarez, executive director of Eat Greater Des Moines] and asked for a fridge. I said, "Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do that in Des Moines?" and she said, "I know, it would be so great." I was included in a conversation about community fridges and there was a lot of talk about getting grants and permits. I asked, "Can I just do it? Can I just try? Could I do the beta?" They said, "If you can get the stuff, sure." So I texted Aubrey on a Thursday, and that Saturday we went to Nebraska Furniture Mart and picked up a fridge and my husband built a shelter for it.

We see people come and get food from 6 a.m. to midnight, if not later. The fridge has gotten busier and more interconnected. A lot of people can’t donate financially, but they’ll clean every week or make sure the area around it isn’t too muddy. Everyone is an equal partner in the fabric of the fridge.

Why do you do what you do?

Because people are hungry. I struggle with that question because I feel like it romanticizes and creates a hero hierarchy. This is run by people. This is run by a community. I house the fridge, I pay the electric bill, but this isn’t just me. This is hundreds of people making small contributions every day. I find a lot of comfort in organizing with other like-minded people. Who wouldn’t do this? If you had the capabilities and the connections in the community, I think all of us have that in us that we could potentially do things like this. It’s tapping in and calling in on that community.

Editor’s note: On June 14, Sweet Tooth Farm and its sister organization, Radiate DSM, received a notice that the commercial garden leases at their lots near the Des Moines River will be terminated next year. It was unclear at time of publication how this might affect the organizations going forward, but the Sweet Tooth and Radiate DSM leaders feared it could effectively shut them down.

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Great Plains Action Society: ‘We just had each other’
Great Plains Action Society networks across Iowa, South Dakota and into Nebraska, and organizers are building services to reach regional Indigenous reservations in the Midwest, said Trisha Etringer, operations and digital media director at Great Plains Action Society. First founded as Indigenous Iowa in 2014 by Christine Nobiss, the organization changed its name to Great Plains Action Society after Nobiss and Etringer met in 2017 and began organizing together.

"Any work that we do, we would like it to be Indigenous-led," Etringer said. "These are our homelands and these are things that we’ve navigated through since the first contact with settlers. We’ve had to figure out how we are going to provide for our own, especially in rough times. … We just had each other, so we always like to keep that at the center."

Ten staff members and a three-member board of directors lead the organization’s political engagement work in Indigenous-centered issues, such as food sovereignty and agriculture, voting rights, missing and murdered indigenous people, and climate change, Etringer said. Organizers are working with local law enforcement departments to implement cultural sensitivity training and a tribal liaison between the local Native American community and police.

Business Record staff writer Kate Hayden contributed reporting on the Great Plains Action Society to this story.
Left: Singer Britney Spears. Center: Olympian Karissa Schweizer. Right: Olympian Laurel Hubbard.
In the headlines
‘Protecting Hands, Wise Counselor’: Romonda D. Belcher
Romonda D. Belcher doesn’t know how she stumbled across her dream to become a judge — only that the calling came early. The path to becoming an attorney, much less a judge, is long, but Belcher never lost sight of the judiciary as her end goal. Belcher attributes her persistence to her faith.

"Being a judge is what I do, not who I am," she says. "Who I am on the inside — my values, how I treat people, my character, my compassion — makes me the judge I am. I don’t just put on a robe and put on certain qualities. Who I am is who I am." READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
How one company worked to root out bias from performance reviews (Harvard Business Review). A year in the life of pandemic-baby parents (New York Times Opinion). Everything you need to know to get the child tax credit (The 19th). I am breaking my silence about the baseball player that raped me (New York Times Opinion). How Joni Mitchell shattered gender barriers when women couldn’t even have their own credit cards (LA Times). Read Britney Spears’ full statement against conservatorship: ‘I am traumatized’ (Variety).

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