Raising food is hard work

August 27, 2014

tomatoMy legs are dotted with black-and-blue bruises. My right elbow is criss-crossed by red scratches. I’ve got a small rash on my wrist that I keep itching, and there’s a swollen mosquito bite on my bicep – which, by the way, is so sore that it hurts to reach for the mouse next to my keyboard as I’m typing this.

Yesterday, I got a crash-course in what it’s like to grow food – not as a hobby in my backyard garden, but to actually feed a family, or rather, several families.

Let me tell you, it’s not easy. And gives me a true appreciation for the hard work that all kinds of farmers do every day.

I’m volunteering this year for Farm Bureau’s Giving Garden, a project for the United Way of Central Iowa. The United Way asked the Farm Bureau home office in West Des Moines to set aside a little space on its campus to grow a garden and supply fresh produce to the Food Bank of Iowa.

So far this year, the Farm Bureau Giving Garden has grown and donated more than 800 pounds of produce for local food pantries. More than 60 employees at Farm Bureau Financial Services and the Iowa Farm Bureau are volunteering their time in the garden.

This week, it was my turn to work in the garden. Most weeks, there isn’t a lot to do but pick a few weeds and run the garden sprinklers.

What I didn’t realize was, after a hot and humid weekend, all the tomatoes are ripening at the same time. That’s right – all 30 tomato plants were loaded with tomatoes so ripe they almost burst when you touch them.

And not all the tomatoes were pretty. Some were soft, rotten and covered with mold. I had to pick tiny slugs off several tomatoes.

Plus, over the summer, the tomato vines grew together into a tall jungle, with no space between the plants. So I couldn’t walk the rows to pick the tomatoes. I had to crawl on my hands and knees, underneath the canopy of vines, to pick the tomatoes from the center rows.

Every time a wire tomato cage scratched my elbow, I remembered that I’m due for a tetanus shot. When I got home and whined to my husband about how my arms hurt after carrying 30-pound crates of tomatoes, he said, “Then what good are all those bootcamp classes you’ve been taking?” (Admittedly, he has a point.)

Needless to say, I learned a lesson yesterday. Gone is my fantasy that someday, if this writing gig doesn’t work out, I can become a tomato farmer and set up a roadside stand.

It also reminded me that tomatoes don’t just show up at the grocery store, looking shiny, red and perfectly round. Someone’s got to pick those tomatoes, not just for an hour over their lunch break, but as a full-time job (although farms that grow canning tomatoes do use mechanized tomato harvesting equipment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJbDIaqK50U).

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.


I discovered the secret to Iowa’s farm legacy at the Iowa State Fair

August 18, 2014
Young Iowa farm family

Nick & Emily Knepper family

If Nick and Emily Knepper aren’t taking shortcuts, none of us should.

The Kneppers brought their young family of six to the Iowa State Fair to receive one of the record 88 Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Awards presented last week.

Yes, that’s four kids, including a two-month-old, at the Iowa State Fair.

Honestly, I would have waited to receive my award in the mail.

But the Kneppers, who raise hogs and cattle and grow corn and soybeans in Delaware County, don’t seem to duck challenges. They use precision equipment to apply fertilizer to their fields; they practice no-till on many of their acres to avoid disturbing the soil; and they plant grassy strips in their fields to help prevent runoff from reaching our water.

Holding his youngest child, Nick explained why his work to protect Iowa’s soil and water is so important to him.  “It’s important for us, now and in the future, to protect what we’ve been given so it’s there for future generations.”

If that doesn’t sound familiar, you may want to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with the way Iowa’s farmers go about their business.

Or just stop by the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Awards next year. Notice the number of young and multi-generation families, and you’ll understand what’s motivating farmers to work harder (and smarter) to protect the environment.

 Young Iowa farm familyYoung Iowa farm family

And if you’re still not convinced that farmers are committed to doing what’s right for future generations, through good times and bad, head over to the Century and Heritage Farm Awards ceremony at the Iowa State Fair.

This year a whopping 344 family farms received Century Farm Awards (for turning 100 years old) and 86 farms received Heritage Awards (for turning 150)!

You can’t fake sincerity, commitment, and sound conservation practices for 100 years.

So if someone should try to convince you that farmers are willing to sacrifice our land and water for a short-term gain, just raise an eyebrow and present them with a ticket to the 2015 State Fair.

By Zach Bader . Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.

Roads not great for bikes, worse for Iowa’s economy

August 6, 2014

I got on my bicycle and rode four days of RAGBRAI this year. It was a great time, despite a little rain in Bremer County and very sore backside by the time I dipped my front tire in the Mississippi River at Guttenberg.RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI really highlights so many of the great things about Iowa. Riders enjoyed a full-frame view of the beautiful Iowa countryside (which my legs can verify is definitely not flat — no matter what some non-Iowans still believe). They saw every size and type of farm and, maybe best of all, they experienced the famous small-town Iowa hospitality.

About the only disappointment was the condition of many of the rural roads and bridges we rode over.

It definitely underscored for me the importance of improving Iowa’s rural transportation infrastructure. It also verified that an increase in the state’s fuel tax is the fairest way to raise the additional funding, approximately $215 million per year that Iowa needs to adequately care for its roads and bridges.

When you are bumping along on a bike, you really get a feel for how much work is needed. For every good road we saw on RAGBRAI, it seemed like there were two or three that were beaten up, rutted and full of cracks. And many of the bridges looked like something out of the era when most bikes had fenders and cars sported tailfins.

Of course, it’s not important to repair roads and bridges for a bike ride, even one as big as RAGBRAI. But improving roads and bridges is critical for Iowa farmers, small-town businesses and the entire rural economy.

Iowa has not increased its fuel gasoline tax since 1989, maybe not the tailfin era, but a time when repairing roads and bridges was significantly cheaper. The dire need for road repairs, and the lack of funding, has prompted some counties to borrow money and issue bonds to pay for infrastructure. That’s a dangerous trend which will put more pressure on property taxpayers, because they are the ones on the hook for the debt.

The bottom line: An increase in the gasoline tax is the fairest way to assure that everyone who uses the roads pays their share.

That includes people from other states who likely crossed Iowa to get to the starting point or finish line of RAGBRAI. It just makes sense that they pay their fair share for infrastructure upkeep.


By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau News Services manager and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.

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