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Old Ways, New Faces (10)


Growing a Shared Vision

Work. Play. Friends. Food. For four family farms in rural Iowa, the old way is not only today’s reality but also a touchstone for tomorrow.

“We’re a group of farmers that come together to help one another, to share the ups and downs and ideas about how to farm sustainably,” says Grinnell Heritage’s Melissa Dunham, summing up a revived collaborative strategy that bolsters the economic vitality of each farm.

The Gang of Four leverages each farm’s experience to grow more than organic produce; these farmers are growing a vision for the economic future of Iowa.

Still, even the most resolute organic farmer can feel isolated in a rural landscape dominated by industrial agriculture.

“It’s reassuring to know that Andy has weeds, too,” says Blue Gate’s Sean Skeehan with a grin, “but conversation is really why we make the drive each month.”

Summer turns to fall, frost settling over the fields, and the group gathers once more.

No chores or projects to complete today, just a celebration of the year’s accomplishments with a harvest feast.

Crowded around a table at Scattergood Friends School — before a spread of roasted Muscovy duck from Genuine Faux Farm; glazed carrots from Grinnell Heritage Farm; assorted jams, jellies, and honey from Blue Gate Farm; and a medley of roasted sweet potatoes, beets, and parsnips from Scattergood — all raise their glasses to a season of work and friendship in hopes of renewed success in the year to come.

Dusk falls and eyes begin to sag. Headlights swing out of the drive.

Dawn will come a little too soon, and the farmers will rise heavy with sleep but buoyed by their web of support.

When winter winds finally push them indoors a few weeks hence, it is time for dreaming again, for spreading the seed catalogs on the kitchen table alongside the hot biscuits, comb honey, and tea.

The season’s triumphs and failures have all been disked under now, save the lettuce, spinach, and chard hanging on year-round in the hoop house.

Come February, the grindstone of the new season will groan forward again, but this time all of these farmers will know something they might not have fully believed a year ago: They are not alone.

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