Born Again Farm Child | successful farming

I have to admit that growing up in Iowa gave me a slight resentment for agriculture. Recently, however, I have found much more pride in my state’s heritage.

That doesn’t mean I don’t respect agriculture. Farmers are the backbone of our country, and I’ve always felt a bit torn between that resentment and the pride I felt in how important my home state was to feeding America.

But no matter where you’re from, whether it’s the city of Des Moines or rural Decatur County, any foreigner will assume you know all about farming. For many people outside the Midwest, corn, hogs, and soybeans are all we are. It’s almost like taking a plane to Iowa, the very first thing you’ll see would be the forked farmer and his stone-faced daughter from Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”

To some extent, these people are almost right in making these assumptions. Agriculture is everywhere here. Of the 36,016,500 acres of total land in Iowa, 33,359,000 of those acres are devoted to agriculture. If you drive more than a few minutes outside of any town, you’re bound to come across a cornfield or cattle pasture.

Grant Wood's painting

Photo credit: GraphicaArtis, Getty Images

Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? It just wasn’t me. Ever since I was young I have always had a passion for music and the entertainment industry. I love writing about new albums and artists, and finding all the ways their art weaves into the greatest tapestry in music history. Unfortunately, living in Iowa means we’re considered “air country” for most artists and it’s hard to witness this tapestry in person without driving five or six hours.

I imagined many groups flying from Chicago to Denver, checking out a few cornfields and thanking their booking agents for skipping the “backcountry” shows. Even in Cedar Rapids, a growing town with a thriving local arts scene, we’re a third-rate place at best—an unlikely stop for anyone but bands of yesteryear barely able to pay homage to their own discography.

Like many people with roots in the Midwest, I have a distant generational family who were subsistence farmers, but that was never part of my childhood. I don’t have strong personal ties to agriculture, so it felt like I knew all the downsides of Iowa without any of the upsides. It was shrinking from being reduced to a ridiculous caricature of a farmer with faded overalls and a straw hat.

It may be hard to believe, but I haven’t met many people here who dress like Tom Sawyer.

A selfie of Alex Gray, New Products Editor for Successful Farming

Alex Gray, New Product Editor

I’ve had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. Really, it’s one of the only things I felt good about. When I had the opportunity to apply for a position in such a prestigious publication as Réussir l’agriculture, I took the plunge. Not only would I have the chance to get back to writing, but I would also have a whole new well of knowledge to tap into and become an expert.

It’s been a whirlwind few months since I started with SF as a new product editor. I published my very first article on the second day of work. A few days later, I’m interviewing several farmers for a feature story (stay tuned, it’s coming soon.) The following month, I’m flying out to several press events around the country during the same week. I had only flown once before this job! Just a few weeks here and I’m well on my way to seeing more countries in a year than in my entire life.

Before working with SF, my experience with machines was quite limited. My grandfather had a couple of John Deere compact tractors on his land in Benton County that he let me mow the lawn with a few times. But that’s about all. I knew that when I started this job I would have the chance to familiarize myself with some of the machines I would be writing about, but it wasn’t until I got to drive a combine when from a recent press event for Case IH in Arizona that I really understood.

A Case combine and grain cart during harvest.

When I blurted out that I had never driven one before, almost everyone at the event said the same thing to me: “We have to put you behind the wheel of a combine harvester”.

Until then, the biggest vehicle I had driven was my grandfather’s F-250. It was a bit of a step up from my dinky little sedan, to say the least. Nathan, one of Case IH’s marketing managers, kept reassuring me that it would be easy and not much different from driving a car. OK, I thought, it’s a half-million-dollar vehicle that also has a giant header lined with a row of metal cogs in the front – just like my car.

To my surprise, the company managed to cultivate a field of corn in mid-January, in Arizona of all people. It was a little disconcerting to see stalks of corn in the middle of the desert, like a kind of challenge to the rules laid down by Mother Nature. Although they weren’t the prettiest stalks of all time, the corn certainly showed human determination.

Nathan took me into the cab where I sat in the passenger seat as different parts of the combine were explained. In a few minutes I feel like I have tripled my knowledge of combine harvesters. He then took me over a pass, showed me how to start it and gave me the keys.

It surprised me, Nathan was right. Finally in control of the combine, which is where I really started to see it. Seeing all of the intricate machines in the header harvesting dry desert corn, being threshed and dumped into the grain tank – in person – was eye-opening. I admit I only sampled a very small portion of the hard work American farmers do every day, but what I experienced was totally awesome.

After all these years, what little resentment remained dissipated after only a few minutes in the taxi. I’ve always respected farmers, but, you know what? Now, I wouldn’t mind if I spent the rest of my life writing or working in this industry.

I’m already finding new love for farming, especially in my news section with new machines. What could be cooler than writing about the latest tractor, combine or sprayer? So hey, if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear from you. I’m here to learn anything and everything I can about my new home. If you have a story to share, send me a message at my email address: [email protected] And if you ever need an extra farmhand, let me know.

Grant Wood painted many landscapes of the Iowa countryside full of rolling hills and cornfields.

Photo credit: Print Collector, Getty Images

I still remember Grant Wood when I think of agriculture and Iowa. But now I can see the beauty he saw in those sunny hills and cornfields that make up so much of his landscapes. And now I can only imagine how much fun it would be to tear through one of those paintings behind the wheel of a combine.

About Keneth T. Graves

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