Engine Trouble

We walked into a massive 800 person auditorium filled with about 75 FFA members at Indianola High School. It's National FFA pride week- many teachers and students have t-shirts and pins with the blue and yellow logo. Cassie Brown- the AgEd teacher- said hello. Rich, the theater manager, hooked up a DVD player, tested the image and adjusted the sound levels before we got started. Good friend Dale Gruis, his wife Dawn, and son Cole joined. Pressed play.

Outside the theater the day's drama began. A scheduling mishap- my fail- had us going from Indianola to Iowa State and back to Simpson College- in Indianola in the evening. The ISU screening started at 3pm and the Simpson College screening at 6pm, with a dinner at 5. It was beginning to look like we wouldn't make dinner and might not make the start of the movie.

Instead of breaking the discussion into segments at IHS, we screened all the way through. It was just me on the panel, which means a lot of talking, loud talking, in such a large space. There were a few questions, and a few more when Cassie threatened a written test unless more questions were asked. There was a good energy in the crowd, students listening, thinking, ruminating.

Andy and I headed North to Ames, planning on lunch at Wheatsfield Co-op. Those plans changed when we heard the engine make a deep lurch at the stop light. Then another, and another. The engine service light came on, and we pulled over to get it checked out.

We walked along Duff Ave. for lunch, finding a wonderful local spot called Hickory Park, with an old-time soda-fountain feel. The walk itself was a bit demoralizing, as the four lane road was heavy with traffic and box store strip malls in each direction.

Walking back, we talked to Sean and Zane at the AAMCO station- to discover the engine was the problem, it could be the plugs and wires, or it could be the engine. Another test was needed, and this meant more time, and the time for our screening at ISU was fast approaching. Sean dropped me off on campus, and I found my way to Curtiss Hall, meeting the energetic professor, Dr. Nancy Grudens-Schuck. Andy stayed with car to either deliver the good or bad news. A class of 60 undergrads, most of whom were heading directly into farming are a perfect match for who we want to communicate with on this trip.

We tried a new format, which had students take a microphone and talk in a kind of stream-of-consciousness about the issues brought up in the documentary. Most of the students are going into large-scale conventional agriculture, and they felt that the documentary was good because it helped tell human stories about the people who raise our food. But they also felt that some of the downsides of niche production had been left out, and not enough of the benefits of conventional production left in. As a whole there was more we agreed on, then not, the importance of a diversified farm operation- if you're raising dairy and hogs, and hogs have a bad year- the dairy can pull you through those hard times and the reverse. But if you only have one type of operation- hogs- and a year like 1998 happens, then you're livelihood will be at risk. That's one of the advantages of raising many animals and crops, you'll survive a wider range of economic challenges.

Andy called halfway through with bad news. The 2002 beige Honda Accord that had taken us 5k miles thus far needed a new engine. This was bad news for a number of reasons, the most obvious being the cost, and the most immediate being the fact that we needed to be in Indianola- an hour's drive- at 6pm, and it was pushing 5pm, and we didn't have a car. We rented one at Hertz, agreed to put a used engine in, and drove South to Simpson. We got there at 7pm.

Luckily, they already had a copy of the documentary and had already had food. So the film got started as planned at 6.

Lauren- the professor who along with Ryan has sparked a local food enthusiasm- was kind enough to save some burritos from the earlier dinner, and some drinks, which we thankfully ate in the quiet library type hall as students studied.

We entered as the credits started to roll, and were pleasantly surprised to find the theater filled to capacity- about 100- intent with college students primed to change the world. The discussion following was electric. A great collection of farmers, Larry Cleverley, Ethan, Kevin, Lavonne. Dale and Cole were there for the second time that day- we learned they've been raising chickens in the backyard for a number of years. And Chuck Wirtz' middle son- Tyson- who's a student at Simpson joined. The discussion was impassioned, engaged. There was a sense of purpose, and a sense of humor, as Ethan talked about accidental pregnancies of his pigs, and Larry mentioned the free beer at his upcoming farm party- which captured the attention and laughs of many. I talked about the opportunities for young people to get into farming, the impact the cost of energy will have on distribution- pushing it to a local scale as oil inches towards $200 a barrel. With a room full of energy like that, it's a good feeling for the future, and for the present.

We grabbed a couple extra burritos and drinks and hit the road in the white rental Corolla which just a few hours earlier we'd never seen or imagined the need of. Jumped East and a little South. Four screenings tomorrow, sleep tonight.

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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-18 11:49:23 -0400