There is an art gallery in our county – a rare thing in rural northern Iowa. Unionhurst Gallery is located in the tiny town of Toeterville, population 298, and features exclusively the work of Atlanta Constance Sampson . If you go in there you’ll probably meet one of Atlanta’s nieces or nephews. The gallery is a work of love for her extended family. Her story is so inspiring, and I think it’s her story that makes her art so moving to me. She dedicated her life to art, relentlessly. She couldn’t not do it. Many people would have given up long before she did but she kept on and finally got her one-woman show at the age of 96.
There are days when I wonder if the Powers That Be are trying to tell me to give up my dream of building a profitable, sustainable farm-based business. Mostly it’s days when things die. One of our piglets is very sick right now, probably with a freak case of tetanus. Tetanus is supposed to be a freak thing anyway, but this is our second case of it. We had a calf die from it 3 years ago. I sometimes think this farm is cursed and half-expected to dig up an Indian burial site when we put the new basement under the house.
But I feel such passion for it I just can’t give it up. Looking back at the journals I’ve kept, you’d see that 10 years ago I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I just didn’t know what kind. For years I toyed with various business ideas but never came up with anything that really got me fired up. Until one day at a cattle auction in a sale barn the lightbulb lit up and I knew I wanted to farm in some way, shape or form. Guess it’s in my blood. My mom’s parents farmed. My dad farms. I wanted to marry a farmer when I grew up. (I’d forgotten it until that moment.) It’s my brother’s passion, too, we’re just taking different paths towards it. I want to see him succeed as badly as I want myself to succeed. I inundate him with articles on sustainable and organic agriculture. In my mind a three or four hundred acre diversified organic farm is the best chance at making your sole living from the farm, which is his goal. So I email him articles on successful Iowa organic farmers. He rolls his eyes at me. It’s just because I love ya, bro.
I am happiest when I am growing food or tending to animals. I just wish I’d realized that 10 or 15 years ago. I am so saddened by the disappearance of small family farms. It seems impossible to make a living and support a family with one anymore. But hope lies in small, sustainable farms and in making connections with food eaters (which is all of us, right?). Knowledge is power, as they say. When people learn more about the food they eat, with what methods it was raised or grown, and how those methods affect the nutritional value of their food and the consequent effects on their own health…then people will start buying the good food. They will support small family farms. More of their food dollars will stay in their own communities, strengthening their local economies. They will be “voting” with those dollars – voting against large agribusiness and for the small family farm.
Matt and I were talking about how people want cheap food and are unwilling to pay more for organic food. I’ll admit, ourselves included. We’re very budget-concious and I just couldn’t see doubling our grocery bill, even though I believe in the superiority of organic food. But we don’t think twice about paying whatever it costs to make us well again when we’re sick. Why aren’t we willing to pay more for food that may help us stay well in the first place? So I’m easing into organics. I now buy organic milk and butter. Of course with the farm the meats and vegetables we raise and eat are almost organic. They’re not quite because we have to buy the corn we feed the animals, and the corn we buy isn’t organic. If we had the land to raise our own corn we’d be organic. But at least our meat’s not laced with subtherapeutic antibiotics and artifical growth hormones. Our vegetables are not sprayed with chemical pesticides and fed synthetic fertilizers. And even though we’re all fighting colds at the moment, overall we’ve had a very healthy winter.
I don’t know if our little Sugar Creek Farm business is the destination on my journey into agriculture. I have a feeling it’s only a stop along the way.