This spring I spent a week on a farm in Iowa. I went to Wendell’s farm; Wendell is my friend Tuna‘s dad. The farm is in northwest Iowa, near the resort town of Okoboji, Iowa. Wendell currently farms about 800 acres of corn and soy. My timing was excellent as the cold 2011 spring pushed planting back exactly to the day I came into town.
There are three major processes I was able to see to prepare the fields for the season. The first was setting drainage tiles. The second is field cultivating and rock picking, and the third is planting seeds.
What many people don’t know (including myself before the trip) is that many farms are set up with a lattice of drainage pipes to divert any possible standing water off the field. In hindsight this makes sense as there are swamps and marshes naturally occurring in preserves and parks near the fertile farmlands. Wendell put in 11,500 feet of drainage tile this spring in his field. He tied these polypropylene pipes into existing cement (!) tiles. Obviously the polypropylene is easier to work with than cement from yesteryear, and it allows the casual observer to gain a better sense of the foresight, hard work, and maintenance required to farm.
I spent most of the time that week field cultivating. The equivalent of field cultivating in a garden is hoeing. Here is a picture of the tractor I drove with the field cultivator attached.
Field cultivating loosens the ground after the winter to plant the seeds. It also feels nice and comfy to walk on. Wendell’s set up has GPS steering so it very easy to go straight. All I did was lift the field cultivator, turn, set the field cultivator back into the ground, and then turn on the auto steering. The auto steering overlaps the previous 27 ft pass by 6 inches, with a 3 inch tolerance. It’s really impressive!
During cultivating, I listened to the radio, talked on my cell phone, and occasionally got out to mark a big rock to pick up later. In usual fashion, I was most excited about the dullest task: picking up rocks since I trained for such tasks with my kettlebell.
In 5 days, I cultivated about 500 acres and closely behind me Wendell planted corn in that area, if you’re into numbers and stats.
The experience left me with a few new feelings.
- Farming, since it is owning a business, consistently takes significantly more financial risk than an engineering job. I am now a lot more grateful that I only need to buy my clothes, get myself to work, and have enough caloric energy to make it through the 8ish hours. The commute is better for a farmer, but the equipment capital, raw material finances, variety of skills required, and land acquisitions is on a whole different level than I experience. (I’m noting the differences which have advantages and disadvantages to each approach.)
- Farming takes a lot decisions, both split-minute and long-term. Wendell had me cultivate on one flat tire, a decision that both surprised me but worked out quite favorably. Determining which seeds to buy, how much and what kind of fertilizer to use, when and what price to sell crops. . . These are just some of the decisions where one can use as much analysis as desired.
- Down to earth. I reflected on this saying and have a new perspective after seeing Wendell come back from the field one day covered in a thick layer of dirt from head to toe.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the experience. I would encourage anyone with the chance to visit a farm, as I think it is much more interesting than I think the society deems it.
I wonder if there is an opportunity available, similar to couchsurfing, but perhaps matching people seeking what I found providing temporary help to those interested. I think that it is the true power of the internet: linking and networking.
My Facebook album captures a more complete photojournalism of the week.