Summer is a time for fun, but it’s also a time for learning experiences.
This summer has been a whirlwind of adventures both near and far. Two weeks ago, I packed up the children in the minivan and headed out to Iowa for a weekend of discovery, coordinated by the Iowa Corn Growers Association. When I first told my daughter about our agenda, she said, “It sounds like a learning experience outside of the classroom.” She didn’t sound exactly pleased about my summer education plans, but ended up loving every minute of our trip.
We first headed to the Mohr Family farm right over the border in Iowa. Jerry and Ann Mohr are the third generation to be on the family farm. It’s a gorgeous brick building surrounded by a green sea of corn that undulates softly in the Iowa wind. They used to raise hogs and cattle in addition to corn and soybean but gave it up in the early 90s after the hog prices dropped precipitously and after the mad cow disease scare.
The Mohrs hosted us for a lovely lunch followed by a tour of the farm, complete with tractor rides for the kids. They learned how everything on the farm has a purpose, from grain silos to animals. Bella, who has been begging me nonstop for a cell phone, was horrified to learn that Jerry’s oldest daughter was never allowed to have a horse on the farm, her greatest wish as a kid. Kind of put the cell phone whining on hold for a bit.
There’s been a lot of talk about the antagonism between mega farms and small family farms, bitter disagreements between organic and conventional farming techniques but the Mohrs were an integral part of their local community. We took a ride to their neighbor’s house who raises chickens, lambs, llamas, and horses, and provides baked goods and fresh eggs to the local farmer’s market. Jerry talked about how the advances in seed technology have drastically cut down on the insecticides he sprays, which benefits the entire community.
The kids were amazed to see first hand that all the corn growing on the farm was not the sweet corn they love to eat all summer, but it made sense to them that the corn is used to feed cows and pigs. The fact that it is also used to make corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup was also logical because corn is so sweet, but they had trouble grasping that it also powers cars. Even when we finished our weekend at the Iowa Speedway Indy 250, they still could not quite believe that the fields of green all around us were making those cars run so fast.
I don’t know enough about the politics of ethanol, but I have to admire the fervor of these farmers when they talk about ridding the US of their dependence on foreign oil. I know enough to understand that the ethanol debate and the control of what goes into our cars is tied to billions of special interest dollars and government subsidies, but as each trip to fill my tank costs me more than the last, it’s a topic I’m highly motivated to learn more about. Our trip to Iowa was eye opening for the entire family, not only giving the kids the opportunity to meet families who make their living from the land, but also giving Steve and I a first hand view of a highly politicized national debate.
This trip was arranged by the Iowa Corn Grower’s Association who paid for our hotel room for 2 nights, provided us with tickets to the Iowa Speedway Indy 250, and reimbursed us for our gas mileage. This family trip to the land of corn was an adventure we’ll be talking about for years to come. We’re in the midst of an extraordinary food revolution, and any opportunity that brings families and farmers together fosters better understanding and helps prepare us for future challenges.