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Conversations with America

Conversations with America: Ethan Book

Ethan Book

David Schulman

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Ethan Book
(Courtesy Ethan Book)
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Ethan Book: We live about six miles south and west of Knoxville, Iowa. The common name for it around here is, "We live just off the crooked road to Melcher."

Our name is Stoneyfield Farm. I'm just a big history buff, and it actually comes from President John Adams. He loved to go back to his farm, and just kind of retreat to it--whether it was putting up hay or dealing with the livestock. And he started out calling his farm "Peacefield," but he was kind of a stoic, puritanical kind of guy, and so he started referring to the farm as "Stoneyfield."

Now, these are pigs that we are growing for customers, and we sell them on half or whole basis. A customer can get a half pig. So these pigs are just raised outside. They have access to grass and to all the pig feed they can eat.

This chicken got in the pigpen. I'm not sure if she knows how to get out, but I'm going to give her some time because it's muddy.

You know, I'm not your conventional Iowa farmer, in that I don't have a combine, and we don't have 800 acres of corn and soybeans. We are raising food the way your grandparents raised food. And so we don't feed any hormones or antibiotics. We just let pigs be pigs and cows be cows. We'll take our hogs one at a time to the locker and to the processor, and then our customer will come and pick it up. Regulations for the small-town processors are becoming more and more difficult, because it's all geared towards bigger. So that leaves the smaller things behind, whether it's main street stores, or small family farms.

Being a small family farm means thinking differently these days. But I still think it's a very important part of our culture and economy, because it's local. You know, we sell to our customers in that 30-mile, 40-mile radius - and closer. We sell to our friends at church - it doesn't get any more local than that.

Because of the way that farming is in Iowa and the United States today, for somebody to come in and say, "Hey, I just, you know, I want to be a farmer," everybody just kind of looks at that a little skeptically, or they say, "that's not possible." But it's also going to banks and saying, "All right, we're looking for an agricultural loan, and we want to buy 40 acres and we want to build a house." Well, it wasn't easy to find that.

I work as a youth pastor at New Covenant Church in Knoxville, so we have income coming in, which makes farming possible for us. We saved for the first seven years of our marriage to get to this point. And so it's kind of like we've been working so hard to get to this point, we're not going to let anything take out the fun of it.

When I go to vote, there's just going to be a lot on my mind. I'm not an economist - I took economy in eighth grade, I think - but we need to be concerned about our local economies. Here in Iowa, because grain prices have been fairly high, we've been a little more insulated. But if we keep putting our focus on "bigger is better," instead of allowing room for small farmers and small businesses, then I think we're just going to keep slipping down that slope. It really needs to be a cultural shift.

I see that chicken got out. I'm just glad she got out - I didn't have to chase her around the pigpen.

  • Music Bridge:
    Cop Show
    Artist: Emperor Penguin
    CD: Extreme Gaming (My Pal God)
More stories from our Conversations with America series

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