ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Ditch Family Farm–What It's Like Living on a Pig Farm

Melissa Ditch shares her experience living on an Iowa pig farm – and her surprises! Learn more about Iowa pig farming...
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Ballet Des Moines is performing excerpts from its new Gravity season and other dances at six locations throughout the state July 27 to Aug. 3.

Ballet Des Moines Tours State This Summer

Ballet Des Moines is spreading its wings throughout the state through its Gravity on Tour events this summer. Performing at venues including the bandshell at Clear Lake and Lauridsen Amphitheater at Des Moines’ Water Works Park, the shows are shaping up to be nights to remember. Bonus: All shows are free.

As part of the event, visitors can enjoy a mobile planetarium, experience a virtual reality lab from Iowa State University, and investigate other STEM activities while learning how the universal language of music and movement can make abstract concepts more human and accessible.

Show dates include:

July 27 - Waterloo
July 28 - Clear Lake
July 29 - Algona
July 31 - Muscatine
Aug. 2 - Chariton
Aug. 3 - Des Moines

Learn more at
Concertgoers at Sioux City's Saturday in the Park can see performances on the Main Stage—including the Avett Brothers and Buddy Guy—or head to the Abe Stage to find alternative national, regional and local acts. Photo: Chrisine McAvoy, GR Lindblade & Co.

Sioux City Cranks Up the Fun

By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Let the wild rumpus begin! Iowa’s playlist of big summer music festivals cranks up a notch with Saturday in the Park on July 2 in Sioux City.

This year’s lineup features the Avett Brothers, Buddy Guy, Elle King, Daisy the Great and Doc Robinson, plus a dozen more acts on two stages at Grandview Park.

The annual festival started in 1991 and regularly draws crowds of 25,000, including regulars from Sioux City’s sister city, Lake Charles, Louisiana. Besides the music, the festival offers all kinds of food, a carnival and pony rides for kids, an art fair with two dozen exhibitors from across the Midwest, and a fireworks show at the end of the night. Admission is free.

The High Trestle Trail bridge stands 13 stories above the Des Moines River. Blue lights brighten up the trail at night for a memorable ride. Photo: Courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

Put Biking the High Trestle Trail on the Summer Bucket List

The popular High Trestle Trail starting in Ankeny delivers fun stops for food and drink all along the 50-mile round-trip route. It’s a complete day of exercise with some leisure breaks. Plus, it features one of the most iconic manmade attractions in the state.

The trail starts in Uptown Ankeny and heads northwest. Plan on riding on a Saturday morning—there’s a farmers market and free yoga in the park. Bike rentals are available in the area, too.

There are five towns along the route, many with dining and drinking options. The Nite Hawk Bar & Grill in Slater is a favorite stop for cold brews and food such as house-made tots, Broasted chicken and pizza.

About another hour is Madrid, where there’s coffee, ice cream or more adult drinks. A pinnacle of the trip is the 13-story High Trestle Trail Bridge less than 3 miles west of Madrid—and photos are a must. A few more miles gets you to Woodward.

The way back offers the same potential stops plus Uptown’s outdoor dining, including Uptown Garage Brewing Co., an open-air eatery that serves Iowa-made beers. Firetrucker Brewery and the Trailside Tap are other options for enjoying a cold one aprés-cycle.
Fishback & Stephenson in Fairfield dishes award-winning burgers and hard apple ciders. Plan on Sunday Funday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which offers sparkling wines, mimosas and loaded bloody marys to complement prime rib for breakfast or lox on an everything bagel. Photo: Fishback & Stephenson.

Day Trip to Fairfield for Cider and Tasty Bites

Looking for a unique-to-Iowa experience? Put Fishback & Stephenson in Fairfield on the list to be the envy in your social feed.

Sourcing grass-fed beef from a fourth-generation Jefferson County farm, the restaurant and cidery focuses on burgers, with nine options—including meatless. Fun fact: The meat is finished with apple mash, giving it a sweet, buttery texture and taste.

And speaking of cider, it’s made on-site and is a consistent award-winner, grabbing the Iowa Cider Producer of the Year title for 2020, 2021 and 2022 from the New York International Cider Competition. The ciders are pressed, fermented and packaged on-site, plus they’re gluten-free and vegan.

Cider flavors include classic green apple as well as other fruity options like peach and passionfruit, pink watermelon, and grapefruit.

The kitchen is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m.
Spend a day exploring the Loess Hills on the 10 miles of trails at Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek in western Iowa.

Park Spotlight: Hitchcock Nature Center

With some of the largest remaining prairie in the state, summer is an ideal time to explore the Loess Hills.

Operated by Pottawattamie Conservation, Hitchcock Nature Center is loaded with amenities for a day trip or overnight. Because it's located north of Council Bluffs by about 20 minutes, it’s possible to stay in the city, or you can camp out under the stars at the park campground or one of the seven backcountry sites. Plus, there are three cabins for rent—weekdays are still available this summer.

Ten miles of trails weave through the park, with numerous loops available. Many of the sections are a mile or less, so it’s possible to cover several loops in a day before taking a break at the Loess Hills Lodge, which has a gallery and gift shop, picnic tables outside, and an observation deck and tower for watching the area’s numerous bird species.

Birders should plan a visit for Hawkwatch, which runs September through December.
During the event, birds-of-prey enthusiasts gather on top of Hitchcock Nature Center's observation tower to count and study thousands of eagles, hawks and other raptors as they migrate south.

Mezzo-soprano Elise Quagliata will star as Ginny, the oldest daughter, in "A Thousand Acres," which will be performed by Des Moines Metro Opera. Photo: Kyle Starcevich.

Opera Tills New Creative Territory

By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Des Moines Metro Opera has been working behind the scenes for several years to present the world premiere of “A Thousand Acres” for the company’s 50th anniversary. It opens July 9 in Indianola.

But really, the opera is more than 400 years in the making. It’s based on Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” whose monstrous monarch divvies up his kingdom to two of his three daughters before tipping off the deep end. In her Pulitzer Prize-winning update, novelist Jane Smiley re-sets the story in 1979 in northwest Iowa, where land prices are still soaring before the farm crisis. In her version, unlike Shakespeare’s, the daughters have their say.

If you’d like to brush up before the premiere, there are plenty of good options, including a recent “Talk of Iowa” Book Club session on Iowa Public Radio, an exhibit of landscape photography June 27 through Aug. 5 at the Polk County Heritage Gallery in Des Moines, a conversation with Smiley on July 9 at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium, and even a fresh production of “King Lear” from Iowa Stage Theatre Company, July 13-17 in the garden at Salisbury House.

The statesman Daniel Webster had it right: “Where tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization.”

Opera tickets are still available for July 13, 19 and 22.

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The motto of Bochner Farms in Indianola: "We are a little flower farm with a big heart." The business donates to Meals from the Heartland with every flower purchase. They offer cut flower bouquets such as this beauty filled with zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, lisianthus and salvia.

Blooming Business Helps Feed Those in Need

Brighten your home—and the dinner tables of those facing food insecurity—with help from a blooming business in Indianola, Bochner Farms. The flower grower, which offers fresh-cut flowers, you-pick events, bouquet subscriptions, and even a mobile flower truck, donates to Meals from the Heartland with each bloom you buy.

Through their GivingColor program, the farm donates a meal that feeds up to six people. The more market bouquets, daylilies and subscriptions you purchase, the more they give. Their four-week subscriptions, for example, provide four meals that feed 24 people (the cost for the summer and fall subscriptions is $120).

Learn more about the farm, including special events, here. Find out how to get involved with Meals from the Heartland, including ways to volunteer, here.

Iowa Stops Hunger is an ongoing initiative by Business Publications Corp. Inc. to raise awareness of food insecurity and inspire action to combat it.

Geneviève Salamone is one of the Des Moines violinists in Dueling Fiddles. Photo: The Farmhouse Studios.

New Music Series at Iowa Arboretum & Gardens

The Iowa Arboretum & Gardens northwest of Madrid is hosting its first music series this summer. Held Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Beckwith Pavilion, Tunes in the Trees includes food and drinks for purchase. Bring a picnic blanket or lawn chairs to enjoy the show.

Upcoming concerts include:

July 12:
NOLA, a group influenced by New Orleans jazz and roots blues.
Food: Weinie Wonderland & Smoke Shack will be dishing grilled dogs, gyros, walking tacos and more.

Aug. 9: Dueling Fiddles featuring Des Moines-based violinists Geneviève Salamone and Hanna Wolle.
Food: Smokin’ Big Dawgs is serving sandwiches and classic sides.

Sept. 13: Diva and the Deacons, featuring Tina Haase Findlay. Blues, rock and soul meet jazz, jam and gospel.
Food: Smokin' Big Dawgs is back with more barbecue.

Tickets are free for garden members and kids under age 12 and $5 for nonmembers age 13 and up; purchase at the door.
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