Photos by Kenzie Petty and City of Des Moines

As spring blooms all throughout the Midwest, people are enjoying the outdoors more. With lakes, flourishing greens, and unique flowers, Iowa is no stranger to natural beauty. But with great beauty, comes great responsibility.

Trees are blossoming in beautiful Des Moines, IA.

Despite not even being in the top 50 percent of eco-friendly states, according to Wallethub’s 2018 Greenest States, Iowa still has many initiatives geared toward a more eco-friendly environment. The Greenest States study occurs every year, and compares states on 23 key factors, including LEED-certified buildings per capita (a rating system based on the sustainable function of a design) and energy consumption from renewable resources.

“I hear people say that urban farming is not a sustainable or viable business, but I disagree,” – Jenny Quiner

One of the bigger movements toward a better environment that is gaining momentum in Iowa, and was heavily present at an Earth Day event at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, is sustainable farming practices. This event provided visibility for over a dozen eco-friendly Iowa businesses. Sustainable farming is seen as vital to many Iowa farmers because of the responsibility they have as one of the top 10 agricultural states in the US, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

“I think sustainable farming is critical, and to me, it focuses on soil health,” says Jenny Quiner, owner and operator of Dogpatch Urban Gardens. “Here in Iowa we are blessed with great soil, but too many farmers take that for granted.”

At Dogpatch Urban Gardens, Quiner and her family use sustainable and regenerative farming practices to enhance the environment while organically growing produce. Her overall goal is to enhance the local community while creating a good model for successful urban farming and inspiring others to start their own businesses.

“I hear people say that urban farming is not a sustainable or viable business, but I disagree,” Quiner says.

And the eco-friendly movements are not isolated to farms. All over Iowa, companies are working toward incorporating more conservational practices.

RecycleMe Iowa, with the slogan “Don’t Be Trashy, Recycle!” has been helping civilians and businesses in Iowa be more environmentally-friendly since 2010. It is an affordable, full-service recycling company. With indoor and outdoor pickup options, zero-waste consultation, and full recycling services for events of up to 30,000 attendees, its mission is to add convenience to recycling. Before RecycleMe Iowa, there was no local and affordable option for recycling. Fittingly, the organization was born on Earth Day.

“We like to think globally, but act locally,” – Christine Eckles

Another business that was highlighted on Earth Day was Des Moines’ Blank Park Zoo. It is the only zoo in Iowa that is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), meaning it upholds standards for both animal welfare and conservation.

Participating in Earth Day and other environmentally conservative practices has been vital to the zoo since the beginning.

“We started with Trash Bash about 8 years ago, and it is part of mission here, which is essentially conservation,” says Christine Eckles, director of volunteers and guest engagement. “We want to think globally, but act locally. It is just as important to us what happens in Madagascar as it is [in] Iowa.”

Des Moines residents showing the love they have for their city on Earth Day by cleaning up with Trash Bash! Credit: City of Des Moines

Trash Bash is an Earth Day action program for the environment where volunteers set out all around Des Moines to pick up trash and clear brush. Many different businesses, organizations and governments collaborate to make this event happen.

Blank Park Zoo also formed a partnership with Trees Forever, Iowa National Heritage Foundation and Des Moines Parks and Recreation to implement a program called Upcycle. This program works to remove invasive plant species from the woodlands, like honeysuckles or dogwoods, and turn them into browse for animals at the zoo. This process creates a new purpose for something that would be otherwise be intrusive or tossed away, or “upcycling.”

Iowa is working toward moving up in the Greenest States ranking for 2019. Eco-friendly organizations are partnering up with other initiatives to create events that combine both fun for the community and sustainable practices.

In the summer of 2018, the Des Moines Arts Festival is hosting the Green Arts Sustainability Program, which ensures that the festival has the most minimal effect on the environment possible while also remaining a world-class event. Vinyl banners used during the Festival will be recycled and made into tote bags and find other uses rather than being deposited in the landfill thanks to Green Arts. Other initiatives of the program include powering all generators used during the event with sustainable fuel and requiring all food vendors to use compostable plates, utensils, napkins, and containers.

The Green Arts Sustainability Program was named the “Best Green Program” by the International Festivals & Events Association.

As programs like these are created and developed, and businesses continue to partner with sustainable organizations, Iowa can continue to highlight its name in the movement for a healthy earth.

Be a part of RecycleMeIowa by filling out this form.

Volunteer for next year’s Trash Bash here.