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We Stand With The Chicken

Last fall, I got the chance to meet a fun group of Iowa bloggers, in person, as they visited loc­al farms on a tour organized by the Franklin County Farm Bureau.

The bloggers meet on a regular basis to visit  unique destinations in northern Iowa. Then of course, they blog about it. Last fall, they visited Enchanted Acres pumpkin patch near Alexander, where they took selfies with the farm’s goats and mixed up pumpkin pie in a bag.

In November, the bloggers dined together at Applebee’s in Mason City. “Pretty soon, the manager came over. He got a call from corporate. They had never seen Twitter blow up over the Mason City Applebee’s, because we were all there tweeting about Applebee’s,” recalls Sara Broers, a farmer from Mason City who blogs at “All in a Mom’s Day” (http://www.allinaniowamomsday.com/).

A few months ago, the group launched a “North Iowa Bloggers” Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NorthIowaBloggers) and website (www.northiowalocal.com) as an online destination to follow the 20-and-counting bloggers who write about food, fitness, travel and life in Iowa.

“What’s cool is that what we all have in common is Iowa,” says Donna Hup, who blogs at donnahup.com.

Like many of the North Iowa bloggers, Hup has gained a national following. She is a Disney brand ambassador and blogs about her recent visits to the “Dancing with the Stars” and “Agent Carter” sets in Hollywood.

Even though blogging has taken her across the country, Hup says she tries to promote north Iowa destinations as much as she can.

“I have friends from Florida, where I’m originally from, and now they want to come visit Iowa because they had no idea what we had to offer until (they read) the North Iowa Bloggers,” Hup says.

Broers, who also writes a travel blog (www.travelwithsara.com), agrees that social media is a great outlet for promoting her home state.

“It helps north Iowa from an economic business point of view. We help share local things that people will want to come to north Iowa to visit and maybe spend some money and check out,” Broer says.

The North Iowa Bloggers also use their social media influence to help local causes. Last summer, when the bloggers learned that a long-time favorite Clear Lake restaurant, the Barrel Drive-In, was struggling to stay open, the group stepped in to help.

They visited the Barrel and met with current owner Seth Thackery, who told them about the history of the 1950s-era drive-in.

When Thackery took over the Barrel  a few years ago after working behind the counter as a teen, the restaurant was in urgent need of renovation.

All of the equipment, including loudspeakers for taking customer orders and light fixtures in the dining room, were more than 50 years old and either impossible or too costly to update.

But this summer, the community, and the North Iowa Bloggers, stepped in. The bloggers started a social media campaign, using the hashtags #Save­theBarrel and #SavetheChicken, in reference to the giant chicken statue in front of the drive-in.

The North Iowa Bloggers also regularly tweet out to celebrity chef Robert Irvine, asking him to choose the Barrel for a business renovation in his “Restaurant: Impossible” show on the Food Network.

“The Barrel is an icon in Clear Lake. It’s an Iowa icon,” Broers says. “It’s the power of social media. That’s how the bloggers come into play, with their audience reach.”

This fall, Thackery won a $75,000 business makeover grant from two Clear Lake entrepreneurs. The bloggers and other volunteers have also helped repaint the drive-in’s exterior, renovate the dining area and restrooms, and replace the aging light fixtures. One volunteer even managed to get the barrel sign out front spinning again.

The Barrel reopened this February with a new look but the same original recipes for broasted chicken and homemade root beer and cole slaw that customers have loved for generations.

As for the North Iowa Bloggers, they promise to share more exciting news on their Facebook page in the coming months, so be sure to give them a follow.