From Waukon to Utah’s Wilderness & Back Again

By: Cerrisa Snethen, Co-op Member/Owner

Co-op member/employee Heidi Betz and her husband David Wadsworth and their girls Amelia (8) and Iris (3), make their home in the rural stretch between Decorah and Waukon. This family seems so definitively rooted in their community these days that it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t a part of the Decorah patchwork. But it was David’s Waukon roots, along with the couple’s youthful shared sense of adventure and sustainabilityrelated goals that landed them here in the first place.

Originally hailing from Missouri, it was 1994 when Heidi trekked to Utah’s Zion National Park for work. There, Heidi began connecting with like-minded others and becoming interested in healthier food options, joining a food-buying club and beginning to learn much of what would go on to shape her current food philosophy. More life-shaping change would be in store, however, and eventually, she would meet David in 1997. Wadsworth was himself working in the park at the time, doing wildlife research postcollege.

Heidi and David would then spend two years living in New Mexico, followed by four in Indiana, all the while making many visits back to the Midwest to visit David’s family in Waukon. Later, approximately six months before making the leap from Indiana to Iowa, they would make the fateful decision to marry back in Heidi’s hometown in Missouri.

At the same time, they purchased a house ten miles east of Decorah (the same one they still live in today), setting up shop in the Driftless Region. It was at this time that Heidi and David also became From Waukon to Utah’s Wilderness & Back Again: How the Betz-Wadsworth Family Came to Be and Why They Call Decorah’s Co-op Their Community members of the Co-op, thanks in part to then employee Liz Rog, who the couple describe as  having been “very welcoming.” Liz also encouraged Heidi to potentially seek employment at the Co-op when the couple finally settled in the area.

Though they might have gotten married before they moved to Iowa, Heidi and David would wait to have a quintessentially Decorahan wedding reception at the Decorah Elks Club, including local music staple “The Footnotes,” local caterer Ruth Hampton, and easing into the Co-op community, which by then seemed an obvious extension of their evolving passion and interest in local/sustainable food systems. It was a natural fit. Having grown up visiting his family’s local organic dairy farm, the non-conventional, more natural food production model was ingrained in David from a young age.

Having travelled around, Heidi and David were well aware of how difficult finding local and organic food could be. When the couple finally settled, Heidi very quickly began her employment with the Co-op, as David began his current business, Wadsworth Construction. And while David initially thought he’d spend months trying to introduce Heidi to new people and help her feel at home here, it was actually her own rapid Co-op connections that began to define their social culture to a large degree. Before long, Heidi was the one introducing David to many of the folks he’d go on to know and include as friends/community members in the days to come. The couple says that the Co-op became their community “just like that.”

At first Betz signed on at the store’s previous location just down the street, as a cashier and produce staff member. For a time she served as the first front end manager at that location, and helped run the expanding cheese department. Then, with the birth of daughter Amelia, Heidi cut back to working part time, but has continued on ever since, even as they’ve welcomed second daughter Iris. Heidi reflected with a grin, on several occasions where she “wore” baby Amelia to work for a couple of hours at a time, toting her wee one in a sling while helping the Co-op to hum. Daughter Iris was also welcomed in the store even in the midst of Heidi’s shifts when nursing was needed, something new Co-op working moms are still encouraged to do today.

To say the Co-op shapes the lives of the Betz- Wadsworth kids is more than fair. The store was the first place Amelia ever walked to herself, from her elementary school. While she’s officially expanded her ventures to the Decorah Public Library, the Coop still serves as a hub and home away from home. “We’re fortunate that this can be a home base for us,” says Heidi. “Especially living out of town. We have access to the Cafe, and the girls feel at home here. They know almost everyone.”

Their Co-op connection overlaps into other areas of life as well, such as when the Betz-Wadsworths participate in Contra and Footnotes dances, where they join in with a myriad of other Co-op families, in addition to their membership in local organization Pleasant Valley, which serves as a community resource for dozens of area families. Their Co-op ideals additionally extend to their own homesteading. The Betz-Wadsworth clan grows a pretty sizeable garden each year, which David says “Sort of waxes and wanes from one year to the next. One year we’ll have an excellent crop of potatoes and eat them all winter until we’re sick of them. And then the next year, we’ll barely plant any.” Daughter Iris chimes in enthusiastically when Heidi points out how her girls love their garden kale. “Kale, kale, kale!” Iris chirps. An important note: The Betz- Wadsworths loved kale before kale was cool. And it’s still a garden-to-kitchen staple. Iris and Amelia love their greens sauteed in Co-op purchased pasture butter, a family favorite. Additional family must-haves include Organic Valley cheese sticks, Bubbies Sauerkraut, Prairie Breeze cheese, Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil, Kalona Organics yogurt, Julie’s Vanilla ice cream, sweet potatoes, Grass Run Farm meat sticks, lots of fresh local veggies, and Kickapoo Coffee. Their now longtime Decorah homestead also includes bees kept by David, and a bit of livestock.

I asked Heidi and David what they’d like to see as they watch the Co-op grow. As it turns out, they’re both incredibly excited about the purchase of next door’s building to aid in the expansion of the Co-op classroom area and beyond. David’s glad firstly, that the Co-op is in a solid financial position to make the purchase, and also because of the potential for this expansion to widen and broaden the Co-op’s community reach. Heidi continues to be inspired by the way out-of-town visitors always get so excited by the sheer existence of the Co-op in a town like Decorah, and enjoys hearing them express their desires to have one like it in their own city. And speaking of other towns, the Betz-Wadsworth clan is never remiss to check out other Co-ops in the places they visit, naming stores in Dubuque, Winona, Iowa City, Rochester, and the Twin Cities as places they’ve made it a point to visit. They have to admit, however, “It’s still hard to find one as great as this.”

These two hope that the Co-op will continue to maintain and even expand on bringing in as much locally grown food as possible, even if that means potentially enlarging departments like produce, meat, and cheese. They continue to support the Co-op and its missions in all of the ways that they can, and express heartfelt happiness at being able to lend that support and be a part of Co-op culture. “We’re just really blessed to have the Co-op in our community,” says Heidi. “We’re so lucky to have this place for our kids, where they get to grow up. It definitely defines our community, if not the community itself.”