Saturday I attended a special program at the Clear Lake Library called Women and the Land. The program featured the author and photographer of a recently published book titled Women and the Land that shares the stories of women farmers in Iowa, highlighting a few North Iowa locals: Wendy Johnson [Joia Food Farm], Jan Libbey [One Step at a Time Gardens and Healthy Harvest of North Iowa], and Sarah Willis [farmer advocate for Niman Ranch]. As I listened to each woman speak, I couldn't help but smile thinking about how much progress has been made in the local food system in North Iowa over the last 5 years. It has been a fun and rewarding journey to work alongside these women in supporting and promoting sustainable farming practices and local food.
I was also feeling a bit nostalgic after one of the speakers posed the question, "How many of you feel a strong connection to the land personally?" Most of you probably do not know that I grew up as a farm kid. I was born and raised on a small family dairy farm in Hayfield, Minnesota until my parents sold our herd when I was in high school. As a young girl, my summer days were spent wandering the pasture, tending to baby kittens, riding goats, watering calves and jumping round bales. Even my 5th grade Science Fair Project was farming related. Given my position now as a food educator and health market owner who is strongly opposed to hormone use in animals, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I was part of the first wave of "scientists" experimenting with rBST hormone use in dairy cows. Interestingly enough, my small sampling in 1995 concluded that no substantial increase in milk production resulted from the hormone use. So, my dad opted out. As I got older, I became very active in 4-H, and showing cattle at the county fair quickly became a highlight of my year during my late elementary, middle school and high school years. I may even have a first kiss under the hockey bleachers at the county fair story tucked away somewhere in my long-term memory files.
Even now having been away from the farm for over 15 years, I still feel a deep-seated connection to farming and the land. On hot days when I'm outside doing anything labor intensive, I flashback to those days of throwing bales, remembering how prickly strands of hay would stick to the streams of sweat running down my sun-bronzed arms, leaving red poke marks amidst dirt trails. And every time I smell sawdust I'm transported back to the 4-H Dairy Barn, stirring fond memories of that chapter of my childhood. Whether it was pushing manure in the barn with my dad, teaching the sandpaper-tongued calves to drink from bottles, or sliding on the ice as we chased cows in 20 below temperatures when they broke out of their fencing, growing up as a farm kid is a treasured part of my personal history. It brings me great joy to be able to return to those roots as I work with farmers sourcing quality local food products for Simply Nourished. My past and present are richly influenced by agriculture, and I'm certain the future chapters of my own women and the land story will be equally fulfilling.
If you are interested in learning more about local and sustainable food, specifically as it relates to local meat production, our Healthy Living Education on February 15th will host a panel of local "women and the land," producers and advocates who will join me in answering questions about local meat production practices and health topics related to how animals are raised. I will specifically be sharing information on how gut health is directly related to the quality of food we consume and what is in that food. How exciting to be part of bringing wellness within reach in North Iowa!