I grew up learning nothing about farming.
The closest I got to farm animals was the exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo and our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair. My dad recounts visiting a family member’s farm growing up, but the rest of the farmers in our family have lost since passed.
As I start a new job in a field I never expected to find myself, I’m reflecting on all of the new experiences I’ve had while living in Iowa. Many of my new experiences are very old experiences for friends. Just a year ago, they were aghast that I’d never stepped foot on a non-hobby farm before. I couldn’t tell the difference between a tractor or combine and had no idea that people took pride in owning red or green ones. Last week, I made people laugh when I admitted that I’ve never seen a cow in real life.
One thing I’ve noticed about Iowans is that every time I mention something I’ve never experienced in my city upbringing, someone always extends an invitation to their home or farm. I’m not naive to the evil and sadness in this world, but I continually encounter good people who makes me never run out of hope. Generosity can sign big checks for nonprofits and go viral when caught on video and shared in social media. But generosity can also take the form of quiet acts of kindness whose effects shouldn’t be discounted. I’m always humbled by the kindness of others, especially when I lave myself in strangers’ care while visiting places away from home.
During last fall’s harvest, the team from Five Star Co-Op in Burchinal, Iowa invited Sara and I to visit. Jake and I have often stared in awe at co-ops and grain dryers since our move to Fargo, North Dakota and speculated about their functions. I’ll never forget the quiet winter evening we visited the Crow Bar in Sabin, MN. We parked along the main street and stared in wonder at a towering grain elevator illuminated only by the stars.
To us city kids, these buildings seemed as mysterious and ominous as skyscrapers might to those who grew up in a smaller agricultural community.
Now that I know more about these buildings, they feel friendlier.
This is the view from the cashier’s window.
Trucks full of grain go through a weighing process to determine how much grain they carry. A probe “pokes the load” and collects a few kernels that deposited into a bucket. Then, a machine determines the grains’ moisture content and an employee examines it for quality. The farmer is then offered payment for his or her load depending on these factors. This past harvest was tough for many North Iowan farmers because precipitation made the grain moister than what’s ideal. Grain that’s too wet can be dried in the co-ops grain dryers for an additional fee.
When the grain is dried, it goes into trucks that take it to a processing facility to be made into feed or ethanol.
Our co-op guide explained how corn dust is highly flammable, so it’s important to sweep down the areas where corn is loaded and unloaded.
The control panels inside a corn dryer are massive.
The controls looked like something from a space ship or Cold War movie.
One of my favorite things I learned is that each strand of silk corresponds to a kernel of corn.
As my friend Donna always says to farmers discussing agricultural concepts to us, “Explain it to me like I’m five.” She’s a city girl like me who grew up in South Florida and moved to a smaller agricultural community for her husband’s work. It’s fascinating to learn the differences between the norms my new friends and I carry, having grown up in a big city or smaller community.
There’s a lot that I don’t understand about farming and only a tiny amount of what I do. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this year to connect with local farmers, both large and small, organic and conventional. All have treated me a great amount of hospitality and kindness that I’ll never forget.