Sometimes I like to close my eyes and picture a place I've recently learned about. Blackest of nights. Barely any other humans for miles and miles. No street lights at the intersections to light the way. Out here, paths are rare, and man-made light is even more so. Miles and miles of prairie grass, some of it so tall that you can only see over it from the back of your horse. Then there are the wild animals to consider. Bears, wolves, and mountain lions, feeding on bison, deer and elk.
It starts to sound a little like the old wild west; I'm over here channeling my inner "Dances With Wolves" character, Terrified of Mountain Lions. The interesting part is that this landscape could be seen from where I'm sitting right now: Iowa, back in the mid-1800's. In those days, Iowa was the edge of the frontier. The eastern half was somewhat settled, but the western half was still quite untamed.
In the summer of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act. This act gave grants of land to states to finance colleges specializing in "agriculture and the mechanic arts." College educations received on the east coast were of little direct benefit to the early settlers and those on the frontier; there was a need to study these not-yet-understood grasslands and soils. Colleges were needed to educate the working class, and people in the territories acquired through The Louisiana Purchase knew this well. They realized that the needs - and benefits - of a "farmer's college" were quite different (yet no less important) than the sophisticated, urban colleges of the eastern U.S.
If you'd like to read more about the historical aspects of Iowa State's land grant legacy, CLICK HERE. I was surprised by how interesting it is. I had never learned the details of how the land of The Louisiana Purchase came to be settled; I didn't know that land grant acts like the Morrill Act had such a large influence on the development of our early nation. And I didn't know that none of Iowa State's land grant ground is in Story County, which is where Iowa State University is located. Seriously, fascinating!
All of this brings us up to current day events. 150 years ago, Iowa was the very first state to accept the terms of The Morrill Act. Fast forward to recent years, when an ISU Alum thought that his family farm may be an ISU land grant parcel. This is how the current project came to be. To quote Diana Pounds' article,
Turned out the farm wasn't on Iowa land-grant property, but in the process of checking, researchers found several old documents referencing Morrill Act parcels and an idea was born: Locate the original land-grant parcels and connect with the people now tending that land.
One such family is James and Sue Francois of Barnum. The Francois are unique in all of this, because they own the first parcel of land farm in Webster County that was recorded as being sold for the land grant mission of Iowa State. It's also the first in the whole state of Iowa, which means it may be the first farm sold in the entire nation-wide land grant program!
I met with James and Sue Francois on their farm, where I listened to the history of this farmland, and learned about the people who have been caring for it.
There have been many generations of Francois raised on the farm. James has lived on the farm his entire life. Growing up, James' family was very involved with the Barnum community they are a part of. James recalls that his father, Eugene, started the fire department and he was an integral part of building the park in town. For the Barnum Centennial celebration in 1974, James' parents bought a boat and gave it away to raise money to build the town's park shelter. Things like this still occur today in small towns across the USA; done quietly by the farmers and ranchers that are the foundation of many rural communities. Sometimes James would get home from school and learn from his dad that they were headed to the Barnum park to sing!
James has memories of his childhood involving his dad, Eugene, and his dad's younger brother, James' Uncle Frank, getting their families together at the farm.
Uncle Frank graduated from Iowa State, and went on to have a remarkable career, including work as a lawyer, an engineer, and a politician. James remembers playing softball with his Uncle Frank and cousins in years gone by. James' cousins now live all over the world, from Los Angeles to Chicago, even Switzerland and the Netherlands, but they all have been back to the farm. James and Sue remember when James' cousin Marie came home to visit with her daughters, who had never been on a farm. One of the girls, Julia, wandered off. A short while later, Julia was found (in her plaid shirt and straw hat that she wanted specifically to wear while visiting the farm), quietly brushing the baby calves. Those quiet moments can be impossible to come by these days, but not on the farm. They are abundant on the farm.
Though there is work to match the solitude and stillness. Always. James spoke of walking beans in the summer; he remembers getting up before sunrise and walking until dark some days, which was simply the way life was. Thankfully, modern agriculture gave us the ability to move away from the long, hard days of walking beans.
At every turn on the farm, James has memories. Many are from his childhood, but there are plenty from his adult years. James and his father built the house that he and Sue live in. His father, Eugene, was a carpenter, and they built the house when James and Sue's daughter, Maria, was just a year old.
Things have changed on the farm through the years, as they always do. Trees have been brought down by lightning. Old buildings, with their glory days behind them, have been torn down and new buildings have gone up. But similar to James' childhood days, there are still animals on the farm. When James was young, they had dairy cows, horses, ponies, and dogs. These days he still has livestock on the farm! (Highlight of the morning was this sweet little #5.)
James and Sue both have jobs off the farm as well. James is a mechanic by trade, and spent years working on cars. When his parents got older, he decided to take a job at the local school working on school buses to be closer to his aging parents.
He speaks fondly of both of his parents, and also his Uncle Frank. I imagine his mother, Alice, was fun to know. Alice grew up on a farm as well, outside of Clare, Iowa. And she happened to love farming. She also had a penchant for riding snowmobiles, and would take young Maria, her grand-daughter, out on the snowmobiles in the winter.
A few things have become clear to me while listening to families talk about their ties to the land. Mostly, that what it all boils down to is not rooted in the land itself, but the sense of family and community the land gives the people that care for it. The old pictures and precious memories leave me wanting to meet the parents and grandparents that have passed on in earlier years. So, so much.
It is unavoidable for me to wonder about the legacy we will leave for our children and grandchildren as farmers. What will they remember Eric and I for? What will your children and grand children remember you for? Really, I'd like to know. The good, the bad, and whatever is in between. Tell me below, and for goodness sake if you haven't taken a look at this amazing map to see if you have land that is an ISU land grant parcel, click on over and check it out!
I'm kicking off my blog series on ISU's land grant legacy families today! I could not be more excited to tell you about this first family. Whether you farm, or just eat the food, you'll be inspired by the Butcher family.
I remember the day well, it was a perfect September day. Sunny and warm; not too hot, not too humid. It was fortuitous circumstance that gave me the pleasure of meeting Bob Butcher, and ultimately the rest of his family.
He was at the Clay County Fair on the day of the ISU Land Grant Legacy Project launch and stopped by to check it out. He looked at the Iowa state map of ISU's land grant farms and was excited to learn that his family owned land from the land grant. This is particularly special for this family, not only because the land grant property has been in their family for many generations. It's also special because they have been very active Iowa State supporters for decades, giving back to the university that has given them so much through their education there.
Weeks after meeting Bob, Ray Hansen (with ISU extension) and I were invited to the Butcher's home when all four of Bob's children were home for an early holiday celebration.
And you know what?
I am so thankful to have met them all.
This family is serving others and giving so much back to farming and to their community.
I don’t know how much you, dear reader, know about farming. But there’s this thing about farming…. it is remarkably time consuming. Which is part of what makes the Butchers a particularly inspiring farm family. It's nearly impossible to meet a family more dedicated to serving agriculture across the board (literally in every way possible), and they all do it in their own way. Bob Butcher and his wife, Connie, do this in some incredible ways, which in turn has inspired the next generation. Bob's grown children, Katie, Wendy, Andrew, and Ben, support ag too, from literally across the country.
Bob’s oldest, his daughter Katie, lives in Florida with her family. You'd better believe her Iowa roots are still a part of her daily life. She'll talk about food truths when a good opportunity arises.
Katie also brought four people home to Iowa with her from Florida, people with no exposure to farming or farm life or raising cattle. Even the stars at night, they never really see the stars and were blown away by the stars in Iowa. I mean, are you letting it sink in?! She literally brought friends home to Bob and Connie's place to experience a farm first hand! Oh how I would love to see more former farm kids inspired to follow her lead and invite people home to "the farm" to stay at mom and dad's.
Wendy is Katie's younger sister, and she lives in Minnesota with her family. While talking with these two sisters I realized that they both are very aware of the conversations around food today, and Wendy also talks about these topics with her friends. She will share articles about food and farming on social media, and on that front, the more the merrier.
Andrew, the third-born of Bob's children, moved back home after college to farm. Andrew and his wife Melissa have two kids, and in addition to farming, Andrew serves as Ida County Cattleman’s President and he's on the Ida County Extension Council.
Ben is the youngest of the four siblings. He lives just down the road from Andrew, where he and his wife Brianna have two young children. Much like his brother, the influence of their father is evident by the time he gives back to his community. He's currently the President of Ida County Farm Bureau. Brianna manages the event center in Holstein and has organized ag-focused events for various groups.
In fact, after I met the family, Brianna and Melissa kicked off plans for a farm event this winter! It's coming up and if you're in the area, check it out! These farm wives are committed.
Bob and Connie took me on a tour of the land grant farm where I got an up-close view of their cattle operation. Recently the family built a facility on the farm. Bob explained to me that the building gives the cattle shade from the sun during our hot Iowa summers, and a curtain can be pulled across the sides to protect the cattle from Iowa's cold winter winds.
When Bob graduated from Iowa State in the 70's, he started in the banking industry in addition to being involved with the family farm. He enjoyed it so much that he is still in ag banking today, as President and CEO of a bank with branches in Holstein and Nevada, Iowa. Yes, this is in addition to family and farming. (No, I don't know how he does it all, either.)
Bob's father passed away a few years go, but his mother Betty lives in Holstein and is still a go-getter. Betty is a great-grandmother (to eight great-grandkids), yet she still made pies and cinnamon rolls at Katie's request for their time together in Iowa. Andrew and Ben have special memories of days in the tractor with grandma when they were young.
Fond memories of childhood and an appreciation of how the generations before them worked to build their farm legacy inspires the Butcher family. Not much compares to the lessons learned raising cattle for 4-H, picking berries from grandma's strawberry patch, and hunting for new baby kitties in spring. I noted a deep sense of thankfulness and family pride in each of them, which is surely a part of the family's success and continued love of farming. When you love something, you support it. This family knows how to serve their family, farming, and their community well. This is no accident. Bob serves as the Associate Vice President for the Iowa Cattlemen's Association Executive Committee, President of the Iowa 4-H Foundation Board of Trustees, he's very involved in organizing fundraisers for Iowa State University, and more.
I have no doubt that before Bob, his father and grandfathers set the example for him to give back to the way of life that has given him so much. There are a variety of challenges facing farmers today. But after meeting the Butcher family, I am reminded so clearly that this way of life is worth fighting for, and there is so much pure GOOD in it. The beauty of farming is hidden in the smell of fresh cut hay. Three generations working long hours together in the field. It's in the dappled light streaming down through the old sugar maples during a slow summer picnic with family. And it's definitely in Grandma Betty's blueberry pie.
You guys! I am so humbled and EXCITED to be working on this project with Iowa State University. It really is Iowa's coolest little treasure hunt.
If you haven't seen it yet, here is the video that does an excellent job of describing the project and why it's valuable to anyone with roots in Iowa.
I hope you enjoy it!
Interested in looking for your own ties to Iowa State's land grant legacy? Check out this map on the website the team created. (And be sure to explore the options; I'm obsessed with the 1875 state atlas map.) There is also information there on how to get parcels validated by the team.
Locate Land Grant Parcels
Please feel welcome to share the video and the website linked above. Our hope is that every parcel will have its story discovered by the families that take care of it! And I very much want to continue talking to land owners, so for goodness sake CONTACT ME if you find ties to a parcel!
And lastly, the mastermind behind the video is a guy named Jed Findlay...I did my part, but it was his vision and creation. Isn't he talented? He was always behind the camera, which is where I'm used to being!
I'm out for now, but soon I will start sharing the stories of the families in the video, in addition to others. I can't wait!
If you'd like to get in touch about this project, head over to my contact page and reach out to me. I'd be delighted to hear from you!
Hello from the heartland! I'm Krystal... a farming wife and mom. I believe in living life and living it well. My Christmas tree is up year-round, usually half decorated. I'm a lover of logic and laughter, full-fat dairy products, photography, and starting off my days with God's hand-crafted Iowa sunrises.