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Not so TinyFest draws big crowds to Colfax

Tiny home exhibitions shows homeowners how to live small

COLFAX —Lounging on a tiny couch, in a tiny living room, wearing a TinyFest Midwest T-shirt, Darren Mike knows a thing or two about tiny homes.

Stepping through a sliding glass door onto a retractable front porch, Mike explains the tiny house on display Saturday at the Jasper County Fairgrounds is the same model as the home owned by his family, designed by Des Moines-based tiny house company Built on the Fly.

Drafted using 3-D imaging, the 200 square foot, 24-foot long house sits on a trailer rig, built and constructed piece by piece like a puzzle in 72 hours. Mike said the manufacturer cuts electrical channels into the pieces. It can be designed to install solar panels, on-board batteries and plumbing hook-ups.

Mike and his wife Melody recently sold their 2,800 square foot home between Omaha and Lincoln, Neb. to live in two, 200 square foot trailers with their four kids and dog. The tiny homes sat parallel to each other attached by a deck. How did it work with so many people in such tight quarters?

“It was awesome,” he said. “We lived there just long enough to catch zoning’s attention and we ended up getting kicked off the land we were living on. So we have this beautiful tiny house that’s in storage.”

With his day job as a digital project manager researcher with Berkshire Hathaway Media, Mike and his family traveled to Colfax over the weekend to give a lecture on simplifying your environment and “living tiny” at TinyFest Midwest, a festival and exhibition for all things tiny house.

Mike hopes he and his family can one day change attitudes and regulations in Saunders County, Neb., to return with their tiny house.

“People don’t understand, I’m selling (my house) because I love tiny homes. My vision is changed. The kids are absolutely in love with our tiny house,” he said. “They ask us all the time when we can get back into it. As soon as we can change legislation, we’re there.”

TinyFest Midwest brought live music, workshops and seminars to the Jasper County Fairgrounds in Colfax on Saturday and Sunday. Tiny houses are a movement. Enthusiasts traveled to Colfax from throughout Iowa and from as far away as St. Louis and Indiana to learn about life simplification and how to build or buy a tiny home.

Although official attendance was not available by presstime Tuesday, TinyFest director Renee McLaughlin said turnout was great.

“People are really enjoying this,” she said at the fairgrounds Saturday. “They’re loving getting to see the tiny houses, they’re streaming in the gates.”

But by far the most popular sight for the hundreds of visitors were the tiny home model exhibits. Builders from Chicago, St. Paul and across the Midwest brought examples of the amenities and features that come with tiny living.

Exhibitors from the University of Northern Iowa’s Mighty House Project put on display the possibility of social change that can come with a tiny home.

UNI Associate Professor of Technology and Engineering Education Scott Greenhalgh has fallen in love with the concept of tiny homes. In the last two years, the UNI program has partnered with Joppa Villages with the goal of using tiny homes as a solution to homelessness.

Greenhalgh passed his interest along to students like Ryan Andersen.

“He was really passionate about tiny homes and got us all interested in them as well,” Andersen said. “The passion spread and here I am.”

Andersen helped build one of UNI’s first tiny homes, featured with two other UNI tiny house projects Saturday. Now an industrial technology teacher for the Southeast Polk Community School District, he leads high school students on tiny house builds in his industrial engineering class in hopes it will steer students toward a career in a skilled trade.

“That’s where we started,” Greenhalgh said. “What could you do as a high school teacher teaching construction which would get more students involved. “(Tiny houses) would be a bigger project that hit all the systems. A lot of schools will build a shed, but with a shed you don’t get a lot of the interior finishes, you don’t get the finished carpentry, the plumbing or electrical.”

For Debbie Stevens of Oskaloosa, her weekend at TinyFest came as something unexpected. Stevens has wanted a tiny home for nearly 10 years, but a recent fight with cancer has put some of her dreams on hold as she battled the illness.

While Stevens toured a split-level model Saturday built by Tiny Green Cabins of St. Paul, Minn., her daughter Ashley Schultz said she surprised her mom with tickets to TinyFest when they heard the news Friday Stevens is officially in remission. Now that her mother is on the road to health, Schultz says TinyFest might just turn into a shopping trip.

“I think she’s going to get one,” Schultz said.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@

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