Friday, May 31, 2013

Great review of THE FARM AT HOLSTEIN DIP by Carroll Engelhardt

The Farm At Holstein Dip

The Farm At Holstein Dip

An Iowa Boyhood

By Carroll Engelhardt

Published by Bur Oak Books/ University of Iowa Press

Carroll Engelhardt, a Professor of  History at Concordia  College, Minnesota, grew up on a farm in the 1940s and 50s without the benefit of  the modern conveniences enjoyed by many other farming communities during the same timescale; his farmhouse home had no indoor plumbing, electricity or functioning heating, yet his childhood was filled with hard work and many happy memories indeed.

 Descended from Norwegian and German immigrants who settled in the beautiful and fertile Clayton County, a strong Protestant morality and work ethic dominated both the area and his own family.

Professor Engelhardt covers five main topic areas: Home, Farm, Town, Church and School, recounting his recollections and experiences relating to each. I had to smile at the description of his exceptionally thrifty, almost parsimonious father at home:
"Father feared additional fees for drilling a new well and excavating through limestone to install the septic system. This seemed so daunting that he refused to act. Living in the house for nearly four decades without running water, a water heater, and a modern bathroom inconvenienced Mother more than it did him."

The incredible details about farm life in Chapter Two will stay in my mind for a very long time; vicious bulls escaping, animals being slaughtered on the farm and daily seeing procreation gave him respect for all forms of life. Saturday nights saw them trooping to the local town of Elkader, whose delights constitute Chapter Three and lead naturally into school and church attendance and their impact on his life, covered in Chapters Four and Five.

This is an absolutely enchanting book, perfect for anyone who enjoys history, sociology, memoirs and/or rural life, and the stunning photos - especially of his grandparents and parents - give an evocative glimpse into a long-gone era.

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week

Anyone who has looked across a ghostly valley at midnight, when moonlight makes a formless silver unity out of the drifting fog, knows how impossible it often is in nature to distinguish mass from hallucination. Anyone who has stood upon a lofty summit and gazed over an inchoate tangle of deep canyons and cragged mountains, of sunlit lakelets and black expanses of forest, has become aware of a certain giddy sensation that there are no distances, no measures, simply unrelated matter rising and falling without any analogy to the banal geometry of breadth, thickness, and height.

Robert Marshall, The People’s Forests

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Interview with Leigh Adcock, Part 2

In developing the press’s new list in food studies, acquisitions editor Catherine Cocks is talking to people who are active in the field. Recently, she spoke with Leigh Adcock, the executive director of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network, about her organization and its aims.

Catherine: On your website, you list one of your goals as insisting on “social and ecological justice.” What do you mean by “ecological justice,” and how is it related to social justice?

Leigh: “Ecological justice” refers to treating species besides Homo sapiens as having a claim in justice to a share of the Earth's resources. “Social justice” in the healthy food and farming movement refers to making sure all people have access to safe and healthy foods grown as close to their home as possible.

Catherine: Another of your goals is to engage people in “experiential learning.” Can you give an example of what you mean by this? What kinds of opportunities for this kind of learning are available now?

Leigh: “Experiential learning” is a concept that recognizes that people learn best by doing. WFAN offers opportunities for aspiring women farmers to pair up with women farmer mentors for eight to ten weeks of on-farm work during the growing season (our Harvesting Our Potential program), and for beginning women farmers (farming ten years or less) to be matched with farmer mentors for off-farm support over the course of a farming year. We also offer occasional “heritage skills” field days to share information on food preservation, weaving, etc. Our women landowner programming (Women Caring for the Land) involves a high degree of hands-on learning as well, including demonstration activities using familiar objects to teach basic conservation concepts and field tours to explore various conservation practices on the ground.

Catherine: Where can people learn more about the key issues that WFAN works on?

Leigh: Our website is the best source: We also maintain a sister site dedicated to women landowner issues at We are members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, so those interested in policy and advocacy should visit them at I also recommend Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat, by Temra Costa, as a great collection of profiles of the women engaged in changing the face of agriculture and food in America today.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Appreciating Nebraska's wildflowers in the city and the country

It doesn’t matter whether you grow wildflowers in the city, as John Dietrich does, or on acres of restored prairie, as Peggy Fletcher does. Both gardeners describe their dedication to maintaining the natural beauties as a “passion.” It is a passion that takes some time to develop and has long-reaching roots -- just like a good stand of wildflowers.
Fletcher started painstakingly restoring 20 acres of the family's land from scratch, three acres each year. It was a labor of love, she said, and something she and her husband, Larry, knew they wanted to do when they purchased the land at 105th and A streets. Working from the ground up, they began creating a wildlife refuge, complete with prairie grass, wildflowers, birds, insects and animals.
Fletcher knew what a hayfield was as a child and loved the wildflowers that bloomed there; she even minored in botany in college. But it wasn’t until later in life, while working at a nature center, that she finally used a name -- prairie -- to describe the landscape she had known and loved all of her life. “It made me sad that we didn’t really recognize the ecological beauty of it,” she said.
Fletcher collected by hand seed from virgin prairie, as she and her husband converted their three acres a year. “We started from scratch,” she said.
With permission and on private property, they would collect three varieties of flowers at a time, taking “at the most” one-quarter of the seed from plants. Each person helping wore a cut-out gallon milk carton around their waist and was careful not to mix grasses and flowers. Staying true to the “range” to keep the right ecological flora, they collected within a 50- to 100-mile range of their home.
“There are all kinds of books on this now, but we only had one, Jon Farrar’s first edition “Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains.”
Only 10,000 copies of that were printed in 1990 for the Game and Parks Commission, where Farrar was a senior editor. They sold out in a year and a half, said Farrar, now retired.
Twenty years later, the second and updated printing of that book was published by the University of Iowa Press with great reviews from plant enthusiasts.
At one time, the Fletcher prairie had 80-plus varieties of wildflowers, but that number has gone down as nature takes its course on the land. Although they planted only six kinds of grasses, they often crowd out the flowers.
Walking the prairie -- where the deer make a path -- continues to be one of Fletcher’s favorite things, as is photographing the wildlife and flowers. Fletcher has passed her love of the prairie onto the next generations by teaching classes there. And the Fletchers donated a conservation easement of their prairie to Wachiska Audubon Society; it was dedicated in 2008.
John Dietrich knew the practical restrictions he was facing -- his wildflowers would be growing in his urban backyard -- then went about sowing his favorites and waited to see what would come of it.
Like Fletcher, he got interested in the prairie concept decades ago and looked to a book for guidance. “I got a packet of seeds from the Wisconsin Horticulture Society and got started,” he said. Over the years he has collected seeds -- with permission -- and ordered others.
When he moved to his current home in 1999, he had “lots of lawn,” he said. Slowly, he began turning the turf in the backyard and was able to transplant some of the wildflowers he brought with him.
Most notable in his urban collection are 60 varieties of false indigo or Baptisia australis, ranging in colors from light gray to blue to blue gray. These wildflowers have long, deep roots and normally don’t like to be moved, but Dietrich has figured out when and how to move them successfully.
He also has several penstemons, gayfeathers and columbines. Coneflowers happily reseed in his yard.
Dietrich said he is “not a landscaper” and doesn’t spend a lot of time designing his backyard. Instead, he plants more “haphazardly,” looking for sunny spots for his wildflowers and puts sedges in his shady areas.
“In my neighborhood, the front yard has to be more formal,” he said. “But the backyard is another story.”