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Historic Building Houses Farmers Market, New Opportunities for Southwest Iowa Town

By Liz Stewart

When southwest Iowa was hit by devastating floods in 2019, Margaret Brady saw the destruction firsthand. Her hometown of Shenandoah and the surrounding communities suffered losses that left families and business owners with nothing.

As a veterinarian, Margaret was helping flood victims with animal care and vaccinations. During that time, she had close contact with several families who were desperate to find housing but didn’t know where to look.

“As I drove up and down the streets of Shenandoah, I saw many empty houses in rough shape, and I wondered why no one was working to rehab those houses,” Margaret said. “Thus began my journey.”

The start of something beautiful

In 2020, Margaret bought her first dilapidated house. After a complete top-to-bottom makeover, she sold the house to a young family. Margaret found the process so fulfilling she kept going, targeting houses that were still structurally sound but no one else wanted. Today, she has her own business, MALOJA Inc., with one part-time and three full-time employees.

She has completed and sold four houses, has three being renovated, and two more waiting to be worked on.

Because of Margaret’s love of old woodwork, doors, bathtubs, wood flooring, and other hard-to-replace material, she tries to save as much as she can when rehabbing a house in hopes of using it on other projects. Eventually, she accumulated too many items and outgrew the storage space in the garages of the houses she was renovating.

In need of a workshop and a warehouse, Margaret went to see Shenandoah’s city attorney to discuss any leads for available spaces. That’s when the Johnson Brothers Mill building came into the picture and changed Maragaret’s life and the community in ways no one would’ve have guessed.

Breathing new life into a town landmark

The Johnson Brothers Mill was built in 1945, and, at the time, was one of the most modern feed manufacturing buildings in southwest Iowa. The business continued to thrive until the 1990s, when changes occurred in the feed industry, and the mill closed.

Margaret was able to get funding to restore the building, including making major repairs to the outside to save it. Workers tuckpointed the bricks on the exterior, replaced damaged windows, and added a new membrane and insulation to its three roofs. Once the building was stabilized, they developed the interior.

“Because the building is so large, there was plenty of room for so much more than what we needed for our rehab work,” Margaret said. “We set to work thinking of other uses for the building that would benefit the community and the area.”

Giving the growers what they need

Shenandoah has a small farmers market in a local park, occurring twice each week. When asked, local growers said they needed a commercial kitchen to prepare their produce for market.

“The lack of a commercial kitchen and vegetable processing areas were barriers that kept local growers from going to the next level of their production,” Margaret said. “There were no rentable commercial kitchens in our area. The nearest one is 60 miles away in Council Bluffs.”

She grew up on an almost 100% self-sustained farm and knew the value of eating what you grow, and she wanted to expand the opportunity for buying and selling local foods.

“I would like people to have access to the same great food I was raised with—simple, little processing, fresh tasting, and amazing,” she said. “My dream is to create a center to distribute food raised in this area to all restaurants, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and every house in southwest Iowa.”

Margaret, along with staff from the Center for Rural Affairs and Golden Hills RC&D, helped develop a plan to use the extra space in the Johnson Brothers Mill to offer new opportunities in Shenandoah, including an additional farmers market and commercial kitchen.

More than a market, a community meeting place

Their vision was for a year-round indoor farmers market with Iowa-raised products sold by local growers. So far, the plan is working.

“The Market at The Mill is the talk of the town,” said Margaret. “We have had 25 vendors at each of our markets, and they are doing great, are happy with their sales, and pleased to have the indoor market that is a great space for their booths.”

Margaret considers The Market at The Mill as much more than a farmers market; it is part of the revitalization of the downtown Shenandoah area. Each Thursday during the summer, live music and barbecue are available across the street. A nearby shop sells ice cream, and other stores stay open later than usual to accommodate shoppers. Margaret says they are looking to bring back the “Saturday night in the city” concept her parents grew up with.

“The restoration of the Johnson Brothers Mill building has been a great boost for the community,” said Margaret. “Everyone is excited that this cool old building is coming back to life. One of the greatest things I have seen is people reconnecting with their neighbors. They are
meeting on Thursday nights and visiting and enjoying the best parts of the community.”

Vendors sell fresh produce, flowers, starter plants, baked goods, and more. Artists, craftspeople, and woodworkers set up booths to showcase their talents.

“All of these people have big dreams,” Margaret said. “Our goal is the development of a relationship between the vendors and their customers while they are selling their products at the market. They are not only buying their products, they are also making friends. During our first few markets we have already seen these relationships beginning to develop.”

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