MASON CITY | For the past two years food and friendship have been uniting a local group of community-minded writers.
Close to a dozen women — part of North Iowa Bloggers — descended on Mary Beth Chiles’ Mason City home in early March for a pizza taste-off. It was an event entirely borne on social media.
After celebrity Mila Kunis proclaimed her love for Casey’s breakfast pizza during a Reddit chat in February, the North Iowa group began pizza-related discussions on Twitter.
Kum & Go joined the conversation, urging the bloggers to try their pizza, too, said Chiles, who shares day-to-day stories and her teapot collection on “It’s Just Life.”
After sampling pies from three chains and one local business, score sheets covered with smiley face stickers indicated Pasta Bella’s margherita and Kum & Go’s breakfast pizza were the group’s favorites.
The group is fond of taste-offs, according to Val Plagge, who chronicles farm life through “Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids.” She said past taste-offs have included wacky types of Lays potato chips and various Oreo flavors.
With 24 seasoned and newbie bloggers who cover food, travel, lifestyle, farming and everyday adventures hailing from across the region — including Hampton, Latimer, Mason City, Nora Springs, Northwood and Rockford — large group gatherings happen about twice a month.
Solo, duo and trio trips are common as the bloggers visit area businesses, review local restaurants and attend events.
“We’re really vested in our communities and finding good stories to tell,” said Jeni Flaa, who runs food-related blog “Jeni Eats.”
Some recent and upcoming highlights include the Barrel Drive-In’s re-opening in Clear Lake, trying out Sugarpie Bakery & Café in Belmond, traveling to Pella for the town’s Tulip Festival and exploring Wisconsin’s Door County.
It all started with three or four bloggers regularly attending a social media breakfast, which is held once a month at First Citizens Bank in Mason City.
“A lot of us had been blogging for a while but did not make the connection,” said Sara Broers, who runs Social Connections LLC, a business that offers blog and social media coaching.
Those few began regularly meeting outside of the breakfast, later becoming known as the North Iowa Bloggers.
Flaa, who moved to Mason City a year and a half ago, made connections through Twitter.
"I didn’t know anyone at the time, but now I have 15 sisters and a mom,” she said.
Twitter was especially useful in getting Chiles, the group’s “mother,” home from Alabama for Amy Hild’s visitation.
Hild, who wrote about food, travel and everyday life in “Modern Rural Living,” died in a car accident Feb. 25.
Through her fellow bloggers tweeting with Delta Assist, Chiles was placed on standby for every flight back and was able to return in time to say goodbye.
“Even though social media sometimes gets a bad rap, it can be really helpful,” said Katy Flint, who writes about family life in “Learning as I Go.”