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.
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