Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
This year, the Griffieon family in Ankeny, Iowa, raised a successful crop of corn and soybeans.
This year, the Griffieon family in Ankeny, Iowa, raised a successful crop of corn and soybeans. Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Learn more about the Griffieon family farm in Iowa and four other family farms through the public radio series Five Farms.
The growing season is over in all but the warmest parts of the country, but for most farmers the work goes on.
For nearly a year, NPR has been following the Griffieon family of Ankeny, Iowa, who live in a white clapboard house on 1,150 acres that have been in the family since the late 1800s.
This past growing season, the Griffieons raised a successful crop of corn and soybeans.
Craig Griffieon also tends to the cattle. His wife, LaVon, and the couple's oldest daughter, Autumn Ogden, sell beef, pork and poultry in local markets. The family also sells meat directly from the farm — Craig says the hog house has been converted to a freezer to store the meat.
Each year, the family nets about $5,000 from the cattle, hogs, chickens and turkeys they sell.
"You used to hear about Mom and her egg money, so I guess it's Mom and her diversified livestock operation money around here," LaVon says. "And I'm taking a lot of credit there because I'm the one that sells it, but Craig actually raises the cattle."
As he shows off his lot, Craig says the calves that the family butchers are 75 percent Limousin and about one-quarter Angus. The cattle were raised without antibiotics and hormones and are corn-fed.
"In a perfect world, he'd also be raising beef that is grass-fed and not eating corn," LaVon says. "And we have customers that ask for that type of product, and so we're trying to change to that, but it'll take a smaller-frame calf than the kind that we're breeding right now. So we'll have to look at some different genetics to do that. Then we'll have to go through the problem of trying to convince Craig that he can take his expensive corn acres and turn them into grassland."
Autumn moved back to the family farm a year ago with her husband of three years. The 25-year-old says she likes working with the livestock — which she calls "warm, fuzzy little animals" — a lot better than the crops.
"I guess I really like the turkeys because they have more of a personality than the chickens do," she says. "But we raise them for Thanksgiving, and then usually the Tuesday before Thanksgiving we take them to a locker and have them butchered. It's hard to get them into the trailer just because they're kind of massive in size. They're a little more wily like that. They wait and watch for a moment of opportunity, and then they try to escape."
Autumn says she gets attached to the turkeys after she feeds them.
"Then I'll see the checks, and I start to add the checks up and it'll make it better," she says. "The price of everything has gone up so much, just the basic cost of living. And it's so hard because we want to produce food for our neighbors and stuff ... for families, people my age that have small children, and things are tight for them anyway, and you don't want to just price that meat to where they can't even afford it. But yet you have to make a profit on the farm, too."