Stratford upon Iowa

Our kids went through a phase – a relatively long phase – during which every time we sat down to eat, they wanted to know where all their food came from. They were not satisfied with “the egg came from a chicken” or “meatballs come from cows” but wanted to know how on earth a macaroni could come from a plant, how cheese is made from milk, where salt comes from, and a myriad of other questions that sent us to Google at nearly every meal. At first we were impressed by how deep and abstract their questions were, but eventually there were days when I would plan meals based on fewest number of ingredients to explain. Potatoes are easier to explain than rice, so that’s our side. Nope, sorry kids, we’re all out of hot dogs.

So maybe our kids had a slightly better than average understanding of where food comes from, but still the distance between farm and table seems to be growing. Our lifestyle limits us in terms of gardening and getting them active in growing food themselves. They’ve helped their Farfar (grandfather) sow potatoes, and we’ve had cherry tomato plants and grown carrots in 2L soda bottles, but a modern commercial farm is another thing entirely.

When a friend in Sweden offered to connect us with his farming relatives in Iowa we were excited but nervous. We’d never met before but they were still so generously willing to host us for a long weekend and teach us about farming. Our first real conversation (other than emails) was when we had an emergency along the road, so I wasn’t sure we were making a great first impression.

Day One: Saturday

We finally arrived in Stratford and set up camp in the city park. For a town of about 700 people, they maintain an impressive city park with playgrounds, pavilions, bathrooms with hot showers, and a number of electrical poles around the perimeter for camping. At $15 per night, it was very reasonable. Our host, Mr. Young, came to meet us and take us for a tour of the town.

Stratford Iowa

Downtown Stratford

He then took us out to a field in the family farm, where his son and grandsons were working on tiling. The only kind of tiling we were familiar with is in the kitchen or bathroom, but we soon learned that on a farm, tiling is a system of drainage pipes that help manage extra water. It’s an expensive process, so they do a little at a time, but it is well worth it in the end.

Our next stop was a little more hands-on. Mr. Young asked the kids to help him as he needed to remove a branch from a tree that was hanging over the roof of a barn. He had a bucket truck lined up and ready to go, and the kids got to ride up in it with him as he trimmed the tree branch. Once the chore was finished, there was time for play, and they got to test and see how high up the bucket truck could reach.

Stratford

Their eyes got brighter than this truck when they saw it!

 

Stratford

What an adventure!

This warm welcome to Stratford and the thoughtfully planned tree-top adventure set a great tone for our visit and helped us forget the difficulties we had in getting there. We wrapped up the day thankful and excited for the rest of our visit.

Day Two: Sunday

We started the day Sunday attending Stratford Evangelical Lutheran Church with Mr. and Mrs. Young. Many of the families at church, and indeed the history of the church itself, trace their roots back to Sweden so a visit from a Swedish Lutheran pastor and his family was appreciated by many. It’s a small congregation in a small community, so a new family that no one recognized was easily noticed and drew some attention, but we felt very welcome and enjoyed worshiping with them. Then we went to lunch at the Stratford school, which was hosting a community fundraiser for a local family struggling with medical issues.

Meanwhile, back on the farm… It was time for us to learn to drive the giant tractor. At over $250,000 it was the most expensive thing any of us had ever driven, and we’re not likely to beat it. This was Peter’s favorite part of the whole weekend. We each got to take a turn driving (except Micah of course), and the kids couldn’t get over being trusted to take a lap around the field. Staffan and I were struck by the comfort of the seat, the climate controlled cab, sound system and automation settings. Farming is more similar to a desk job than we thought!

Stratford

The joy of anticipation!

 

Stratford

There they go!

Our next stop was apple picking, and then to Mr. Young’s grandson’s house to meet his kids and their animals. The kids played well together and after checking out the hog house and running around in an empty grain silo, they took off together into a soybean field that inspired lots of adventures.

Stratford

Apple picking on a windy day

 

Stratford

Emelie’s favorite was this little pony

 

Stratford

This kitten was a little more Micah’s speed

 

Stratford

Peter almost disappeared out in the soybean field

To cap off a wonderful day, we were invited to dinner with the whole Young clan. Our family sat around the table with four generations of their family and talked about Sweden and farming and homeschooling late into the evening. The kids continued to get along great, and it wasn’t until the two toddlers started melting down that we realized quite how late it was. Good food and good fellowship will do that.

Day Three: Monday

After a late night on Sunday, we took Monday morning a little easy. Staffan took Herb (our Suburban – Herb the ‘Burb) over to the local tire shop and got him all fixed up. Then we were off to learn more about farming!

Though our focus in Stratford was learning about modern farming, we also took the opportunity to learn about the history of the area, and the Swedish settlers that first farmed the land. A certain house, built by Swedish settlers at the beginning of the 20th Century, is currently run as bed and breakfast by their granddaughter. The house is mostly original (she installed indoor plumbing since few vacationers were interested in using an outhouse or a chamber pot) and visitors enjoy living like settlers did over 100 years ago (again, except for the plumbing!)

Stratford

Välkommen!

She also sells the walnuts that fall from the trees in the yard, and our kids were only too happy to take the walnut collectors for a spin and fill a bucket for her. They probably would have been content to do it much longer, but there was a storm approaching and we still had one last stop to make before the weather turned against us.

Stratford

Always good when something helpful is also so much fun!

We had hoped to see some harvesting, but it seemed unlikely. A cold spring had pushed the season back a bit this year and many farms weren’t ready to be harvested. Moisture levels have a bit impact on the price the crop can fetch so this was also keeping some farmers from harvesting, especially as the forecast called for thunderstorms. But Mr. Young kept trying and eventually found a neighbor who was doing some harvesting. So we hurried there to watch before the storm interrupted their work and our chances to see harvesting before we left Stratford. We never expected that the farmer would stop and invite the kids to ride with him in the combine, to see the whole process up close and personal. This was one of the most memorable parts of our whole visit! We were just in time for their last run for the day and just as we left the heavens opened.

Stratford

Front row seats and a guide to explain the whole process!

 

Stratford

These are truly amazing machines!

What a fantastic weekend we had in Stratford! We experienced hospitality that was truly above and beyond our expectations, we got to learn and experience so much about modern farming, and we walked away with some new friends. We all have a much better and deeper appreciation for where our food comes from, and I feel confident that these experiences will play a role in shaping how our kids grow to understand the world.

To the Young family, and the wider community of Stratford, thank you. The words seem insufficient, but we offer them all the same. Thank you so very much!

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