Who Owns This Land?

Le Mars was the first town this trip without a Super 8, so we stayed at a Baymont Inn, I think. 

The weather was below zero with the wind chill, and we drove West to Akron, Iowa. In the warmth of the car, it was a beautiful morning, the simple colors of sunrise against the occasional silhouette of a leafless tree. 

Akron is as far west as you can go in Iowa, sharing a border with South Dakota. The state is so close, at some points you can literally throw a rock from the road across into SD. It's a small town, the reason we stayed in Le Mars is because there's no motel in Akron.

We had about 30 students and about 10 community members in all, which for our purposes often leads to really engaged conversations.  The auditorium seemed brand new, which has been the case at a number of the schools. There's a lot of pride in schools out here, and a lot of money and effort goes into keeping schools vibrant and alive. 

We broke into 5 groups, and I handed each community member a sheet of paper that I'd written the review questions on. Questions like: What are the advantages of commodity production? What are the steps in slaughtering a chicken? and How does a CSA work? One of the best things about this screening model is that it forces the old-time farmers to interact with the high school students, and brings up conversations that will hopefully lead to opportunities for these kids to get into farming. Each and every time, I am inspired by the willingness of farmers who raise animals in conventional production, to be open to new ways of doing things, especially if it creates jobs for young people. 

Of course, there's disagreement over specific things, but that's part of being American. Have a conversation, disagree, and move on. Or perhaps change your position just a little bit. Or not.

There are many things that everyone agrees on:

1) We need young farmers

2) Land is way too expensive

3) Farmers should be paid more of the food dollar

After the screening, and the panel discussion, everyone joined for some Subway sandwiches that Randy- the AgEd Instructor (AgEd stands for Agriculture Educator) had arranged for. I talked to three kids who were interested in farming, and one of the first things that came out was the cost of land. 

How can we get the cost of land down? Who's land is this? There's got to be a way- either through homesteading--- where the government says that if you farm land for ten years you own it, or through massively reduced loan rates for young farmers- that we can get land into the hands of these aspiring youth. The time for action is right now. Would there be some organization, company or foundation who would buy acres and acres of land and give it to young farmers? There's got to be some way. 

After lunch we said goodbyes, and got some very heartfelt thank yous from farmers and students alike, which are more effective than gasoline at fueling us across the state. We were also given some Akron-Westfield FFA T-shirts, to add to our growing collection. 

On the way East we stopped  and bought ice cream cones filled with Blue Bunny ice cream, a national company headquartered in Le Mars. We chuckled at the absurdity of eating something that cold in the dead of winter. 

About four hours later- across a windy truck-filled highway 3,  we arrived in Thornton, and began preparing for a dawn shoot tomorrow with young farmer James Frantzen.

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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-18 11:14:30 -0400