I love my work. It satisfies my curiosity and wanderlust, but more importantly, I love the positive nature of the work. In a time when it is easy to be swallowed up by the overwhelming hardship and heartache in the world, I get to focus my attention of the small, but significant ways that ordinary people are working towards something better. Over and over again, I am surprised and delighted by a small corner of the world where people have come together to affect change and create alternative realities. Fairfield, IA stands out in this regard, and I consider it my genuine good fortune to have literally stumbled upon it.
After a long trip through Kansas and Oklahoma last April, I was scouting for a small Iowa town that might be on my way home. I pulled out my bag of tricks and looked at a Farmer’s Market directory, which pointed me towards Fairfield. Upon my arrival, I was immediately embarrassed that this vibrant small town had not previously been on my radar.
In 1974, after the Fairfield based Parson’s College closed its doors, Maharishi University moved in, bringing many distinguished scholars from large coastal towns to the heart of the Midwest. The mission of Maharishi University was to provide a campus on which the “Science of Creative Intelligence” could be fused with traditional subject matter, thereby generating deeper understanding and consciousness in all subject areas. Along with this consciousness-based academic approach, the Transcendental Meditation technique is woven into the fabric of everyday campus life.
The opening of the university delivered a highly intellectual, culturally sophisticated, and multi-national population to a small Iowa farming community virtually overnight. With this new population came a drive for more arts and culture,* ethnic food, and progressive thought.
To their credit, the people of Fairfield have adapted remarkably well to such an immense change in culture, and 35 years later the town is a wonderful conglomeration of Midwestern values and multi-cultural influences. The tag line at the bottom of the local business brochure reads “Innovation” “Reinvention” “Social Responsibility” and “Sustainability”. From my vantage point, this is not a hollow ad campaign; Fairfield strives in earnest for all these qualities and the energy around them is palpable.
Known today as a hot-spot for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, Fairfield has embraced the concept of “Asset Quilting” –a term coined by Burt Chojnowski of Brain Belt Consulting a local firm focused on strengthening local economies.
“Asset Quilting [refers to] the culture of collaboration among individuals and organizations to create something new and bigger than the sum of its parts. It involves leveraging ideas, money and resources through community-wide collaboration… Asset Quilting is a term, used to describe the civic and social magic that takes place in Fairfield on a daily basis.” [The Fairfield Edge -2011]
This magic is palpable in everything from the vibrant and highly active arts community (including, but not limited to a strong line-up at the 10 million dollar Sondheim Performing Arts Center and 1st Friday ArtWalks during the warmer months), to the commitment to local goods, foods and services, the passion for sustainable living practices and a highly multicultural atmosphere.
In short, the nexus of strong Midwestern values –hard work, connection to the land and conservation—and the consciousness-based ideals brought to Fairfield by Maharishi Mahesh and the TM movement, have melded to form a rich and dynamic community. Even Oprah, spurred on by her TM practice, was recently inspired enough by Fairfield to make a visit!
*In writing this I am in no way implying that rural places are cultureless –anyone who has lived in one knows this is not the case- In this writing I am using the word in the more mainstream form to which we often hear it referred.
This popular coffeehouse is buzzing with local activity from dawn until well past dusk. Cafe Paradiso serves a daily menu premium, organic, fair-trade coffee (roasted on-site) and now, artisan beers, along with freshly made organic baked goods and weekend brunches. The cafe also delivers a steady and reliable line-up of musical talent.
Revelations Cafe & Bookstore:
Revelations is a town fixture, and it shows by the consistently full tables, no matter what time of day. First rate soups, salads, sandwiches and pastries in addition to outstanding wood-fired pizza. Open for lunch and dinner --no alcohol, but very good coffee.
Top of the Rock Grille:
A modern twist on the traditional Midwestern supper club. Top of the Rock dishes up quality steaks, wedge salads and fixings of paramount quality in a refined but welcoming atmosphere. The lunch menu yields to "lighter" fare with pastas, soups, and inspired salads.
Piquant Thai cuisine at reasonable prices. Cafeteria style, lunch.
Gupta's Vegetarian Indian Cuisine:
Delicious, organic, authentic Indian food in a family-friendly atmosphere with family-friendly prices! Note: Gupta is only open Mon-Fri 12-2pm & 6:30-8pm.
The Green Gourmet:
Buffet-style organic food with a wide range of mouthwatering ethnic dishes. Casual atmosphere. Lunch only. Mon-Fri.
The Raj Restaurant:
Located on the outskirts of town, The Raj Ayurvedic Health Spa offers a delicious, healthful, organic, buffet-style lunch to the public. (Sun-Thurs, 12-2 pm)
Upscale Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar. Good Food. Vibrant Atmosphere. Local Favorite.
The Chocolate Cafe:
Delectable high-end chocolates and desserts. Open Mon-Sat.
Everybody's Grocery & The Crepe Escape:
The largest organic and natural foods store in Iowa offers a huge selection of locally sourced and organic foods along with a small café serving sumptuous crepes in a delightful coffee shop atmosphere.
This simple-but-charming restaurant focuses on home delivery and take-out, but supplies a few small tables for patrons who wish to enjoy their meals in the restaurant. Serving lunch only, Anna Cucina serves fresh and healthy soups, salads and sandwiches. Lunch must be pre-ordered by 11:00 on their website:
or by phone: 314-374-2442
Fairfield supports outdoor recreation of all kinds with it's extensive, 33-mile trail system. The Fairfield Trail circles around the town, wandering through diverse terrain and connecting with Fairfield's major parks and waterways, including Jefferson County Park, Cedar Creek Wetlands, Whitham Woods and Chautauqua Park, in addition to Bonnifield, Pleasant and Walton Lakes. Campers can enjoy 24 sites in Jefferson County Park.
Arts, Crafts & Capers
1st Fridays Art Walk:
On the 1st Friday of the month, local galleries and shops stay open late and invite guests to partake in all sorts of community cheer. In the warmer months, the town square is bubbling with a variety of music and dancing performances in addition to an assortment of activities and workshops and an eclectic mix of local food.
Fairfield Arts & Convention Center &
The Stephen Sondheim Center for Performing Arts:
This state-of-the-art community space opened in 2007 with a 500 seat theater providing a full and varied venue of local talent and touring national performances.
Americus Diamond Art Gallery:
Owner/Artist Chris Kufner displays his beautiful, bold, impressionistic work alongside a rotating collection of works by other regional artists.
Bill Teeple Studio & ICON Gallery:
The ICON Gallery exhibits the works of contemporary, fine artists from Iowa and beyond. Director Bill Teeple is dedicated to making art accessible to all interested parties and the gallery hosts lectures, films and workshops throughout the year to help keep the arts thriving in Fairfield. Bill's downstairs studio attracts budding and experienced artists of all ages with the motto "I can awaken the artist in anyone!"
At Home Store:
This wonderful gourmet kitchen store would be a bright spot in even the biggest city with its enticing selection of kitchen and housewares in addition to fine chocolate, beautiful hand-dyed yarns, and other sundries. The added bonus that this gem is located in a small town means that visitors are met with the hospitality of a small town. Proprietor Rosie Witherspoon was warm and welcoming during my visit, even inviting me into the pizza-making class that she was hosting that evening!
The Fairfield Farmer's Market:
May through October, the Farmer's Market draws crowds of local food enthusiasts in addition to folks who just want to take in the lively scene of musicians, artists and other creative types who regularly participate in the market festivities. Wednesdays: 3:00 -6:00pm; Saturdays: 8:00am - 1:00pm.
Snowy River Pottery
Features beautiful and functional, handmade pottery pieces and studio classes in downtown Fairfield.
This charming, "green" B&B is located just off of the Fairfield Square in the heart of the downtown business area. It is directly adjacent to the Sondheim Arts & Convention Center and walking distance from most of Fairfield's shops and restaurants. The owners serve a delicious, organic, daily breakfast. The Inn also operates a "cottage" next door. The cottage has 3 bedrooms and a stocked kitchen in addition to living room, dining room, and a small business center.
Seven Roses Inn:
Set on a historic country estate just on the edge of downtown, and across the road from Chautauqua Park, this lovely B&B hosts 5 well-appointed rooms with a beautiful organic breakfast in a quiet and elegant setting.
Sweetwater Luxury Bunkhouse:
This tranquil, contemporary, off-the-grid "bunkhouse" is emblematic of the many good things that are going on in Fairfield. Powered by wind and sun with earth tube ventilation. Beautiful simplicity located in the Abundance Ecovillage of Fairfield.
Rukmapura Park Hotel:
Located 7 miles north of Fairfield in Maharishi Vedic City, the Rukmapura Park Hotel sits on 250 scenic acres and was designed in the Maharishi Sthapatya Vedic tradition.
The Raj Spa & Restaurant is centered around the ayurvedic principles of natural wellness, and has been nationally recognized as a premier destination by journals such as the New York Times and Newsweek and Natural Health magazines.
The Landmark Inn:
This independently owned inn sits in the heart of downtown Fairfield and offers simple rooms in a prime location at unbeatable prices.
- Population: 10,000
- Avg Temp in January: 32/13
- Avg Temp in July: 88/65
- Known for:
Green Initiative, Entrepreneurial Enterprise, Fine and Performing Arts -1st Friday ArtWalks & Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts, Multicultural Community, Maharishi University Transcendental Meditation