Sunday, June 14, 2015

Photos-of-the-Week #215 - A Day On The Farm, West Branch, Iowa, June 2015

What I visit I had to a family owned and operated farm in West Branch, Iowa. Some readers of this blog were born and raised on farms, so you know about what it takes to operate such an enterprise. I usually describe my hometown as a small farming community of 100,000. I grew up in the shadow of the Empire State Building as a suburban city boy in northern New Jersey, aka a "Jersey Boy." When I was growing up, we had several fairly large working "truck" or produce farms and two or three dairy farms within the city limits. We had farm fresh veggies available from several roadside produce stands and our milk came from within a mile of our home. 

But, as I said, I was not a farm boy. Two of the houses my parents owned, while I was growing up, had back yards that bordered on a couple of the large truck farms. I watched the farmer at work. I never participated or had any clue as to how difficult and challenging operating a real farm is. Of course, over my adult lifetime I've chosen to live in more and more rural areas. And my own last stationary home was on a 49 acre small ranch in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where I had a half dozen horses boarded. I was, for all practical intents and purposes a "country gentleman," but certainly not a real rancher or farmer.

My friend, Jolene Brown, a woman I met through my professional speaker affiliations, has invited me on several occasions to visit the family farm she and her husband own and operate in West Branch, Iowa, when I might be passing through that area. I finally did get through her part of the world and took her up on the invitation. Wow! What an education I received about the field of agriculture. I had an uncle and aunt who owned a sizeable farm in Sussex County, New Jersey, complete with farmhouse without indoor plumbing and an outhouse with the half-moon carved in the door. But, I never saw Uncle Richard working that farm.

The photo above shows the Browns' farm as I approached it from one direction (the small town of West Branch, which happens to also be the birthplace and burial site of President Herbert Hoover and his wife).
The photo to the right shows the farm from the back as I was leaving down a different road taking me to a different town. The land you see in the photos is only a small representation of 500 acres. Now, I know how big a piece of property of approximately 50 acres is, because I had one. Multiplying my known world by ten times was mind boggling. The Browns describe their farm as a small farm. Whew! It looked more like a small kingdom to me.

 I can't even imagine a cattle ranch that may be as large as 100,000 acres or more or the largest ranch in the U.S. the King Ranch in southern Texas with about 1,200,000 acres. Just as a frame of reference that's 55.5 times the size of Manhattan Island or just slightly less than the entire land area of the state of Delaware. The Browns' small farm is only 1/43rd the size of Manhattan Island, but it still looked like a kingdom to me and I challenge anyone to walk the perimeter.

The barn was huge and was constructed in 1895. It's stood for 120 years and I'm going to suggest, unless something of cataclysmic proportions occurs, it's going to be there in another 120 years.

The farm house, pictured here, was started in 1902. It has, of course, gone through a series of renovations, remodeling and upgrades over its lifetime, but it still had that feeling of solid "bones" and permanence. When you entered the house you just felt warm and secure, something I don't feel in many modern houses. There is a difference.

Jolene operates her international speaking, consulting and coaching business from an office in the house. She speaks to agricultural audiences and small family owned business audiences throughout the U.S. and other countries. Her main topic is the importance of the "family business/farm" and plans for succession of the farms/businesses. She does much of her consulting and coaching from the office in the beautiful farmhouse.

I learned so much about farming and the agricultural business while I was visiting. Too often we take things for granted when it's as simple as going to the local supermarket, Walmart supercenter or weekly farmers' markets to pick up our produce, dairy and meat. Seeing first hand, up close and personal, the massive equipment, the buildings, the grain dryers and elevators, the fields, the tiny plants just coming out of the ground that will, in a few short months, become the amber waves of grain and fruited plains as described in the tribute song to our country, "America, the Beautiful" was more moving than I can express in mere words. Learning about and seeing the actual work being done, the long hours, the amount of business and paperwork involved was a revelation that has led me to a new understanding, appreciation and respect for "the farm" and the hardy people who choose and love the land and working it.

Here are my hosts, The Farmers Brown, Jolene and Keith.
Keith is the main farmer, working very hard from dawn's early light until the sun sets and then tending to paperwork. Jolene contributes to the labors required by maintaining the house, the lands around the house, their private vegetable and herb gardens and some attractive flower beds, providing the meals and running her own business. And, during the harvest season, Jolene sets her business aside and joins Keith in the fields and helping run the dryers and grain elevators. These two industrious members of our society operate and do everything on their farm, all 500 acres, themselves, no hired hands. 

Thanks Jolene and Keith for all you do, for being the great Americans you are and for your contributions to all of us who are "Jersey Boys" and other city and suburban dwellers. And thank you for your hospitality and the opportunity to learn and understand so much about an important/vital facet of the American story and way of life.   


  1. What a pleasure to see the photo of their farm. I could feel the peace of the rural setting and tended fields and buildings.

    I recall when hitchhiking across the US when a teen a CBer arranged to stop at farm where they gave us coffee and.... I saw the pitcher of pancake batter on the table. I inquired if there were cream. How they enjoyed the innocence of a kid from Brooklyn. That was the cream; never saw it so thick and haven't since.

    1. You, being a kid from Brooklyn, wasn't much different than me being a Jersey Boy, Richard. Only we actually had dairy cows in Clifton, NJ and as a kid I remember the milk being delivered with a nice amount of that thick cream at the top of the glass bottle delivered to our door every other morning. We could even order a bottle of cream. Whether exploring the U.S. as a teenager or an older vagabond - there is so much to see and learn. There certainly is something tranquil about being in that wide open country, but as I mentioned, be assured, there are a lot of long, hard hours put into what we describe as peaceful.