Iowa Farmers Cling to Springtime Planting Ritual

A barn on the Griffieon farm. i i

hide captionA barn on the Griffieons' 800-acre farm in Ankeny, Iowa.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
A barn on the Griffieon farm.

A barn on the Griffieons' 800-acre farm in Ankeny, Iowa.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Craig fills the planter with soybean seeds before taking it into the field. i i

hide captionCraig Griffieon fills a planter with soybean seeds before taking it into the field.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Craig fills the planter with soybean seeds before taking it into the field.

Craig Griffieon fills a planter with soybean seeds before taking it into the field.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Craig points to soybean seeds in his 12-row planter. i i

hide captionCraig points to soybean seeds in his 12-row planter.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Craig points to soybean seeds in his 12-row planter.

Craig points to soybean seeds in his 12-row planter.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Craig drives the tractor as the planter deposits the seeds. i i

hide captionCraig drives the tractor as the planter deposits seeds.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Craig drives the tractor as the planter deposits the seeds.

Craig drives the tractor as the planter deposits seeds.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
LaVon walks along the family farm. i i

hide captionLaVon walks along the family farm.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
LaVon walks along the family farm.

LaVon walks along the family farm.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
A "For Sale" sign with a newly-built house in the distance. i i

hide captionThe Griffieons say the land around their farm is being rapidly developed. Neighbors are selling for tens of thousands of dollars per acre. But the Griffieons don't plan to sell.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies
A "For Sale" sign with a newly-built house in the distance.

The Griffieons say the land around their farm is being rapidly developed. Neighbors are selling for tens of thousands of dollars per acre. But the Griffieons don't plan to sell.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies

American Family Farms

Learn more about the Griffieon family farm in Iowa and four other family farms included in the public radio series Five Farms.

About 60 years ago, 15 percent of Americans lived on farms. Today, that number is barely 1 percent.

For many people, the annual gamble of spring planting has become a remote — almost exotic — experience.

In a series, NPR is following farmers Craig and LaVon Griffieon of Ankeny, Iowa, for a year to study life on an American farm.

Part 1 discussed how the Griffieons have differing views on how to run their farm. Craig is concerned about growing the biggest crops possible, while LaVon worries about the dangers of pesticides and genetically modified organisms.

Part 2 looks at the process of spring planting — and how the area around the family farm is rapidly developing.

As spring has hit, the Griffieons have been sowing seeds. Craig sows them on the family's 800 acres and on several hundred acres owned by neighbors, while LaVon plants potatoes, onions, sweet corn and other vegetables in gardens next to the farmhouse.

The Griffieons are determined to have their children become the sixth generation planting crops on the family's land.

The Gamble of Planting

The Griffieons started planting a 113-acre field of corn May 5. That day, they finished 99 acres. A new planter that is 12 rows and 30 inches apart runs between $60,000 and $70,000, according to Craig. A tractor pulls a planter around the fields to deposit the seeds.

The family planted between 31,000 and 32,000 seeds per acre. An acre is about the size of a football field. The seeds were dropped about seven to eight inches apart, Craig says.

"We're way behind," LaVon says from the garden. "It's been such a cool, damp spring. But when it goes, it goes fast."

She points to where Craig's grandmother's garden used to be in the backyard.

"We have these six little garden boxes over here that we've mixed horse manure, peat moss and vermiculite in, and it's going to be organic," she says.

Planting is a bit of a gamble, because if the soil temperature falls below 50 degrees, the corn seeds probably won't germinate.

"But more than likely, it'll stay warm from this point on," Craig says. "It's what I tell LaVon all the time: It's like going to Vegas, but it takes nine months to get your results."

The Land's Rising Value

Subdivisions and houses populate an area south of the farm, where Craig's great grandparents homesteaded. Over the past five years, the building has "steadily [crept] north," LaVon says.

"They all look the same," Craig says of the houses. "There's nothing different about them."

When Craig and LaVon got married in 1979, she joined him on his family's farm, which is three miles north of Ankeny, a northern suburb of Des Moines.

"We are now surrounded on three sides of our farm with subdivisions," LaVon says. "Our neighbors to the south sold for $23,000 an acre, and we have a neighbor to the east of us who sold for $45,800 an acre, I think."

The Griffieon family owns about 800 acres.

"Some people think I should cash in my chips and become a millionaire, but I don't know that many rich people that are happy," LaVon says. "My kids are pretty well grounded in agriculture, and they want to have a future here. And as long as they want to do it, I will be here to make sure the city honors the boundaries around this farm. I've made it very well known that this is a farm, and it's going to remain a farm."

Craig agrees.

"I love farming," he says. "It's provided us with food on the table, and this farm's been in my family for over a hundred years. I just, you know, I'm happy where I'm at, and I guess the money doesn't mean that much."

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