Fairfield First Friday Art Walk

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Fairfield is one of the most unique small towns in Iowa. With Maharishi University of Management and Maharishi Vedic City nearby, the vibe in Fairfield is a cultural smorgasbord.

IMG_5975The Maharishi University, which embraces Transcendental Meditation and follows the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, provides students with organic vegetarian meals from produce grown at the university’s local organic farm. It’s a unique, consciousness-based education with a couple of dozen available majors.

Nearby, Maharishi Vedic City was incorporated in 2001 as a model of ideal city life. The architecture in this town of 259 is designed according to Maharishi Sthapatya Veda design to promote health, happiness, and good fortune. There are schools, organic farms, and health care. The town’s motto is “Creating a national center for perfect health and world peace.”

The whole town is only about one square mile, and it’s located about four miles north of Fairfield.

This has nothing to do with my visit to Fairfield last week for one of its First Fridays Art Walk, except that it helps to explain why Fairfield, a town of 9,464 residents and the county seat for Jefferson County in southeast Iowa, is so unusual.

Fairfield has always seemed attractive to me because of its food choices. I can’t imagine finding a vegetarian Indian restaurant, an Ethopian restaurant, and a Turkish restaurant in any other town of this size in Iowa. And that’s not to mention Thai, Mexican, Italian, and Caribbean restaurants, plus three organic eateries, a crepe restaurant, coffee houses, and funky cafes. Fairfield’s tourism website boasts that the city has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco.

The town is also known for its “Fairfest,” “Live on the Square” and other festivals, including the First Fridays Art Walk. The art walk has been named an Iowa Tourism Event of the Year, and it’s held on the first Friday evening of each month regardless of season or weather. Each month features a different theme. September’s theme was “Harvestfest: Celebrating the bounty of the season.”

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When Dave and I arrived in downtown Fairfield last Friday night around 6:30, the band East of Omaha was rocking the gazebo. A few booths were set up, selling food and handcrafts, and people were beginning to mill around the area. We sat on a park bench and listened to music for a little while, then decided to go find the art galleries.

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There are nearly a dozen galleries in Fairfield, mostly around the town square. We visited the Americus Gallery (above), featuring the work of artist Jim Weidle, among others.

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We also went into the ICON Gallery (above), which had an installation called “Bill’s Soup, Part 1” – an eclectic mix of work from the Fairfield art community. We tried to go into ArtFiftyTwo – a gallery across the street from the Jefferson County courthouse (below) – but it was closed.

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I didn’t really care, because by this point I was really hungry, and I could smell food coming from every direction. We walked by two restaurants in very close proximity: Ila’s and Revelations. Both menus looked delicious. We landed at Revelations Café, which is also a bookstore, as it turns out.

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This is a fun and funky place to eat. You put in your order at the counter at the back of the store. The menu offered wood-fired pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and other yummy-sounding dishes. I ended up ordering the quiche of the day (Greek) with a side salad, and it was a delicious and healthy choice. Both Ila’s and Revelations are known for their use of locally produced foods.

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And there was a bonus: Cedar Valley Winery of Batavia, Iowa, was on hand with samples. I tasted the Chambourcin, a dry, medium-bodied red, and it was tasty enough that I ordered a whole glass. I was told that all the grapes used in producing the Cedar Valley wines are grown locally.

After our meal, we went back outside and walked around the square. I poked around in a couple of shops: The At Home Store for kitchen goods and textiles and the Health and Wholeness store for good-smelling soaps and other stuff. There are funky clothing stores and a variety of other unique shops that would make for a fun excursion with my daughters or sisters. (Dave is not much of a shopper.)

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By now, more vendors were set up in the square: A face-painting booth, a wood-fired pizza stand, a Southeast Iowa Food Hub booth, a crepe stand, and Ethiopian food vendor, and more. I didn’t really get the Harvestfest connection, however. We only found one produce stand, but it was a good one – I bought a big bag of yellow heirloom tomatoes.

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The next First Fridays Art Walk is Oct. 2. The theme is Oktoberfest: A celebration of German Culture and Community.

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