Enriching Rural Main Streets From The Ground Up

Heidi Bell is revitalizing rural Iowa one cup of coffee at a time. Bell (’97 agricultural business, agricultural extension education) is the proprietor of From the Ground, a cozy coffee shop and restaurant tucked in the Main Street square of Leon, Iowa.

Opened in 2010, From the Ground was created to meet a need in the local economy identified by a grassroots effort within the community.

The result is a charming shop: tin ceiling, cheerful decor and well-worn dining room sets for seating. A chalkboard located on the sidewalk lists the day’s specials, and the aroma of coffee and baked goods welcomes visitors as they enter. The glass-topped front counter is filled with golden-crusted pies, huge cinnamon rolls and sumptuous scones.

As people enter, Bell greets them each by name and asks about their lives.

“Members of our community are important to me,” says Bell. “My staff work very hard to connect with each of our customers to get to know them and provide a warm, inviting place to gather.”

Gather, is exactly what locals do at “Heidi’s place.” Throughout the day all ages move in and out of the shop. Some come to visit with friends. Others grab a quick snack on the way to high school play practice.

“This isn’t about owning a restaurant,” says Bell. “It’s about community and creating a place for people to belong. That’s what makes this place so neat. We value your dollar and your personality.”

Bell takes supporting her rural community seriously. She sources as many ingredients as possible from local vendors and businesses. The decorations in the shop are made by local artists, and she contracts with a local vendor for her best-selling pies and cinnamon rolls.

She’s also the past president of the Leon Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Leon Community Development Corporation, a 4-H leader, the education director of her church’s youth group and most recent awardee of the Iowa Small Business Development Center’s Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award. The list of her community service and outreach continues.

“From the Ground adds a fresh face to a dower looking business district. It helps restore the vibrancy and puts the ‘main’ back in Main Street,” says Robert Kilgore, mayor of Leon. “Heidi’s business boosts the economic health of our business community, anchors Main Street the way it used to function and keeps our dollars local and supporting the community. We are tremendously lucky to have Heidi as a business owner here in Leon and hope she will give us many more years of her drive and talents.”

Heidi began her professional career as a 4-H youth field specialist, which has fueled her passion for community. “Hands are a big part of 4-H; if you have skills and you can help, you should,” she says.

Bell’s agricultural business degree has come in handy several times with her business venture. “Supply and demand, opportunity cost, supply chain management, all of these are part of my daily life now,” says Bell. “My education at Iowa State has prepared me well for my career.”

Bell and her husband, Lance (’97 animal science) support college and university programs, are active in 4-H and cheer on the Cyclones with their children.