116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
While congressional action on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and another $3.5 trillion for Democrats’ social and climate change priorities is getting major attention, a federally supported program telling the story of Iowa’s agricultural heritage is hoping Congress acts on a much smaller appropriation.
Silos & Smokestacks, a national heritage area with more than 100 partner organizations, is waiting on reauthorization of its funding before the federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“We understand it's not like we're this significant large number program that needs to rise to the top of everybody's concern, but it is significant in the impact that it makes,” said Cara Miller, Silos & Smokestacks executive director.
Silos & Smokestacks, which is affiliated with the National Park Service, expects about $700,000 in federal funds, which it must match dollar for dollar. An economic analysis of Silos & Smokestacks found it generates $309 million a year in economic activity across the 37-county area it serves.
Miller calls Silos & Smokestacks “a real driver” of tourism in the area. With more than 100 affiliates bring about 3 million visitors a year to attractions ranging from Hawkeye Buffalo Farm near Fredericksburg, where visitors can hand-feed bison, to larger venues such as the Dubuque’s Mississippi River Museum and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids.
The mission of Silos & Smokestacks is to tell the story of Iowa’s heritage through six themes — the fertile land; farmers and families; the changing farm; the science and technology of farming; agribusiness; and politics and policies.
For some venues, affiliation with Silos & Smokestacks is about more than money.
The organization has “never been a huge funding source for us, but agriculture is not a huge part of what we do,” said Jim Miller, vice president of marketing for the National Czech and Slovak Museum. “But we value that partnership.”
The museum received a small grant to help pay for an agricultural intern and another for a technology upgrade during the pandemic, said Miller, who is no relation to Cara Miller from Silos & Smokestacks.
In addition to the grants, he said, the partnership with the other Silos & Smokestacks organizations benefits all the affiliates. “So we certainly hope that it continues at whatever level — whether it's $1,000 or $10,000,” Jim Miller said.
Cara Miller isn’t aware of any opposition to reauthorizing Silos & Smokestacks’ funding. The last reauthorization was in 2013 and Congress then had acted much earlier in the budget process, she said.
“We're just very anxious about getting it done. It's getting very close,” she said about the Sept. 30 deadline.
If Silos & Smokestacks is not reauthorized, it cannot receive any federal money. So for Silos & Smokestacks, it’s more a matter of timing than opposition.
U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, a Republican, and Cindy Axne, a Democrat, whose districts cover much of Iowa’s national heritage area, are supportive. GOP U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst also supported Silos & Smokestacks when she met with its representatives at a Benton County stop recently.
Reauthorization “has a huge impact on us,” Cara Miller said. “Not just at the headquarters, but for the 115 partner sites.”
“We partner with museums and farms and history centers and any of those places that have a significant ag story,” she said. “We provide them with technical assistance, we provide them with training, we provide them with volunteer training. A lot of these places are totally volunteer run. So they really rely on us for all sorts of information and resources that they don't have the expertise to manage.”
That includes marketing and promotion of individual sites as well tourism in the entire heritage area.
Comments: (319) 398-8375; email@example.com