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Ames: Where Creativity Reigns in Iowa

In Story County, you can find colorful murals, a zero-waste shop, and cricket energy bars ... yes, cricket energy bars!

By Brittany Anas on May 26, 2021

Ames, Story County, IA
Shelby Smith

Smack dab in the middle of Iowa, Ames and Story County pack a lot of surprises per square mile.>

Take for instance “The Trogdors,” a pair of purple and yellow metal dragon sculptures that are part of Ames’ public art program and named by residents via a community vote. The area’s endearing qualities and creative prowess, however, don’t stop with its friendly and fictitious fire breathers.>

Imaginative residents contribute to the unique fabric of Story County in a number of ways, from creating cheerful, color-bursting murals, championing Mother Earth at a shop focused on sustainable products, and farming crickets to create novel protein-packed snacks.>

Take a look at just a few of the unique enterprises that make Ames, IA an interesting and fun place to live.

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Shelby Smith

Snack Attack

Shelby Smith, the founder of Gym-N-Eat Crickets in Ames, is on a mission to get more insects in your diet. Hear her out: Crickets are a sustainable food source.

Growing them takes just a fraction of the amount of land, water and feed that traditional protein sources like cattle and chicken require. They’re packed with lean protein, iron, B12 and other vitamins.

Oh, and Smith’s salted caramel energy bars made with cricket powder will convince you that you do, in fact, have a taste for insects.

Smith, who grew up on a corn and soy farm, decided a few years back to leverage her harvesting know-how to start a cricket farm. Now, she creates cricket energy bars in a variety of flavors, plus cricket powder that you can add to smoothies, baked goods or hummus.

Her dry-roasted crickets are savory snacks, coming in flavors like buffalo ranch and sea salt and pepper. “I love defying people’s expectations,” she says.


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Jeff Adkins

A Museum Without Walls

No admission ticket is required to the suburban outdoor museum that is Ames. Step foot into Story County, and you’ll see the area is filled with eye-catching art.

This is achieved, in part, by a Neighborhood Sculpture Program that allows for pieces of art to be dispersed throughout public areas and enjoyed by all.

New and historic murals provide a lovely juxtaposition downtown. “Evolution of Corn,” painted by Lowell Houser in the 1930s, can be seen on the north wall in the Ames Post Office.

Down the street, a color-saturated mural called “Hallmarks of Ames” is bidding for a spot on your Instagram grid.


The mural was painted by Lauren Gifford, a recent Iowa State University grad who took part in CYstarters, an accelerator program that helps student entrepreneurs launch a business.

“I want to make people smile with my art,” Gifford says. “I love when people want to stop and take a picture with the mural.”

Her use of bold colors and handwritten fonts are attention grabbers. (By the way, she teaches calligraphy classes in Ames, as well).


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Kathryn Gamble

Zero-Waste Ambitions

Z.W. Mercantile is a locally owned and operated shop in Ames that helps people transition to and maintain as close to a zero-waste lifestyle as possible. Instead of, say, disposable paper towels, the store carries reusable “unpaper towels,” which are made of washable cotton flannel and come in whimsical prints.

The mercantile also has bulk cleaning and personal care products to help customers reduce the amount of single-use plastic containers.

That means you can bring in a recycled glass bottle and fill it up with lotion that’s made on a local farm using gentle-on-the-skin ingredients like goat’s milk, honey and oatmeal.


There are many wonderful ways you can switch out single-use products in your daily life, says Mindy Bergstrom, the store’s owner. “It’s a change in the way you think about the products you use,” she says.

Her customers are surprised with the wide variety of unique, eco-friendly offerings in the store, from the biodegradable coconut kitchen scrubs to the biodegradable charcoal dental floss.

“There’s such a passion in Ames to leave this place better for the younger generation,” Bergstrom says.

Want to explore more about Ames and Story County? Check out the latest edition Livability Ames/Story County, Iowa.


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