Sustainable Living in Decorah Iowa

Chris Blanchard shares information about sustainable living in Decorah, Iowa, with detailed information about Winneshiek County, Iowa including facts on community, economy, climate and renewable energy potential.


| June/July 2002



A Fjord horse leads the annual Nordic Fest parades as it moves past the historic Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in downtown Decorah.

A Fjord horse leads the annual Nordic Fest parades as it moves past the historic Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in downtown Decorah.


PHOTO: DAVID CAVAGNARO

Learn about sustainable living in Decorah, Iowa.

In 1999, after 10 years of working on other people's farms, Kim and I had finally scraped enough money together to buy our own place. Having lived for a time on both coasts, we knew we wanted to return to the quiet beauty, friendly people and farming-based communities of the Upper Midwest. After looking at more than 30 farms at a variety of locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, we decided to return to the community and the land we had loved and left several years before and chose sustainable living in Decorah, Iowa.

The town of Decorah, not far from the Minnesota state line and the Mississippi River, is nestled in a river valley in the Driftless region, an area the glaciers did not reach when they scraped the rest of the Midwest flat. The thousands of years of erosion have created a beautiful land of hills and valleys in the midst of a flat landscape. The underlying limestone karst topography allows water to flow in abundant underground rivers, feeding the numerous springs, which flow into the many creeks and streams. It is hard to drive more than a mile without crossing a ridge into another valley and every valley has a creek in the bottom — many filled with trout.

Weather in the Upper Midwest is nothing if not extreme, and this area is no exception. Thirty degrees below zero is not uncommon during the winter, and it gets even colder in the valleys (although the wind blows harder on the ridges). Winter storms can blow in with vicious winds and huge snowfalls coming off the northern plains of Canada — there's nothing between us and the Arctic Circle but prairie grass. Summers get hot and humid, and 95 degree days with 95 percent relative humidity are not nearly uncommon enough for my tastes. Summer brings the occasional tornado warning, which can be terrifying to somebody from Seattle (like me), but then again we don t have earthquakes out here.

With no large cities within an hour's drive, Decorah has become the cultural and business huh of Northeast Iowa. Of course it means we get the Wal-Mart, but we also have a thriving downtown business district recently redone to include nice lamps planters and brickwork: an art gallery featuring local artists; a decent coffee shop: a fancy restaurant; clothing stores; an invaluable photocopy shop and an outstanding public library. I was complaining recently to Kim about how boring the local news is, but she reminded me that's part of why we chose to live here.

Decorah's isolation has served it well, if you like unspoiled rural living. The nearest mall and airport are an hour away in LaCross, Wisconsin, while Rochester, Minnesota, is a good 90 minutes away and the Twin Cities are nearly a three-hour drive. Winneshiek County is blessedly out of development's path, since we aren't close enough to anywhere to commute easily, but we still see a number of McMansions beginning to dot the landscape.





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