By Michael McAllister
Grinnellians endured Iowa’s third-wettest winter in 124 years a few months ago, and that followed Iowa’s third-wettest autumn, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And so far, the spring of 2019 has been anything but dry.
In short, we need—we deserve–some summer.
Fortunately, dedicated people have been at work to assure that Grinnell’s summer traditions continue and that a few enhancements are tossed into the mix—among them the staff members of the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce.
While we can’t rely on the Chamber to control the weather, Grinnell has come to depend on the Chamber for helping shape the summer.
One Grinnell summer tradition, the Farmers Market, is already well underway, having begun May 9. Vendor participation is up, according to Rachael Kinnick, by about 8 vendors, both full- and part-time, driving the total number of marketers to approximately 30 on Thursdays and 10 to 12 on Saturdays.
More vendors mean more items on hand, adding to an already diverse and plentiful range of produce, baked goods, craft items, and more. “You name it, you can find it pretty much at the Farmers Market,” Kinnick says.
Plans are also underway to offer live music at some future markets.
In addition, Grinnell’s Farmers Market is offering some outreach with help from sponsors on the fourth Thursday of every month. For example, on May 23, representatives from Grinnell Regional Medical Center and UnityPoint Health were on hand to answer questions and to introduce medical personnel to the public.
In another example of expanding its range of products and services, the Market is working as a drop-off point for books to go toward the Grinnell Education Partnership and the AmeriCorps program. “We have collected well north of 230 books, and our initial goal was 100 during the month of May…which is exciting to see,” Kinnick commented.
Friday Night Live
Once it was called Friday Fest, the first Friday of June, July, and August, and it involved blocking off Main Street from Fourth Avenue to Fifth Avenue. The event featured live music, beverages, and children’s activities. In 2018, with the renovated Central Park officially open, the activity moved there and was rechristened Friday Night Live.
Kinnick rates it “a wild success” and adds, “We’re excited for a second year.”
This year, Friday Night Live continues as a Central Park event June 7, July 5, and August 2.
Admission is free. Food and beverages are available at a cost. Music is live with Damon Dotson performing June 7 and Whiplash booked for July 5. August’s offering is to be announced.
Friday Night Live is an opportunity to enjoy music, food, beverages, family, and friends—all in the congenial setting of Central Park. The park’s playground equipment and the ever-popular splash pad assure that children are not left out of the fun.
Picnic in the Park (Members Only, Please)
Grinnell’s Chamber of Commerce is unique in its range of efforts since it functions as Convention and Visitors’ Bureau and engages in economic development as well. “Our time gets split pretty quickly,” Kinnick states,” adding that the Chamber strives to focus on internal projects such as increasing and enhancing membership; broad, long-range efforts such as promoting current, new, and forthcoming businesses; all without losing sight of the significance of community events.
For example, this summer the Chamber launches a members-only event called Picnic in the Park. Sponsored by New York Life and Rod Rosburg, the event joins Let’s Do Lunch, Sip and Socialize, and Coffee Connections as part of the Chamber’s Creating Connections series of activities.
The Central Park setting will promote the park and provide a relaxed setting. “Participants can bring a meal, or the Chamber is working with some local food vendors to have food available for purchase at the events,” Rosburg explains. “Any opportunity to be able to network is a great idea.”
June 11, July 9, and August 13 are Picnic in the Park dates.
Other events that Kinnick stresses include Grinnell Games, the traditional Fourth of July celebration, and the Farm to Table Dinner.
Grinnell Games take place June 15 with a sprint triathlon slated for late August.
Parade information for the Fourth of July is posted on the Chamber’s website. Grand Marshall nominations are being accepted now and can be submitted through the website. “We have seen an incredible uptick in Grand Marshall nominations…a substantial increase,” Kinnick notes, and she stresses the uniqueness of some submissions.
This will be the second year for the Farm to Table fundraiser, scheduled for Sunday, July 28, Farm to Table supports both the Farmers Market and Local Foods Connection. “It’s a really fun event,” Kinnick stresses. “You get essentially a five-course dinner…locally sourced and…produced by local chefs.”
“Bring your friends and have a great night out,” Kinnick emphasizes.
It Takes a Village—and Volunteers
While Racheal Kinnick’s job is to promote the Chamber, she is quick to give credit elsewhere and in doing so emphasizes the importance of volunteer involvement—not only at Chamber events but as a force driving new, almost spontaneous events.
It takes, for example, a minimum of 10 volunteers to staff an event like Friday Night Live.
One trend that Kinnick has noted is that younger people tend to volunteer more as a group than individually. Members of Grinnell’s football team help with setting up before and tearing down after Friday Night Live events, and their efforts are invaluable. Another faithful group is Tiger Paws, helping with events such as Grinnell Games.
“As an organization,” she states, “we’re having to almost rethink and restructure our events a little bit to be able to accommodate volunteering differently.”
Volunteers can also drive events.
For instance, she cites last Christmas season’s Central Park holiday events as “really led by a group of community volunteers who came in and just said, ‘You know what? We really want to see this happen,’ and [they] pulled together [more] volunteers to make it so.”
While the Chamber offered some support, Kinnick praises the volunteers for the events’ success. She hopes that the situation can serve as a model for future bursts of volunteerism intent on community enhancement.
Although we may at times feel deprived of appropriate weather, we are not at a loss for people working to enhance and enliven Grinnell. The Chamber of Commerce is an example of such a group of people.
For information about Chamber summer events and other Chamber matters, visit www.grinnellchamber.org.