We met Alex and Kevin at a house that is for sale in our nearby town of Lovilia, a little four-square built about 100 years ago to house coal miners working in the area. The house is cute but a bit of a design mess, the stairs to the second floor beginning in the only room that could realistically be a bedroom, the upstairs a scattershot of tiny rooms with dormer windows. We were looking at the house to see if we might be able to make it part of our future, housing Alex and Kevin if they do in fact decide to move across the country to join us on the farm.
The couple drove all the way from Missoula, Montana to meet us at the coal-miner's house, then spent the subsequent two days with us. We worked as much as we could in the 20-degree cold and snow, ate meals and talked. We discussed cattle and goats, BBQ and seeds, worked together collecting metal scrap and cleaned the swallow shtettle houses, preparing for the next generation of swallows to move in.
John and I want to share the land we farm with others for no or low rent, to diversify the operation and to bring a next GENeration into reGENerative farming. I wrote about the concept at length in articles and in my book Bet the Farm: The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America, which Alex just so happened to read and reached out to me. We emailed back and forth, then texted, and finally I suggested that if she and her partner Kevin were actually interested in moving to Iowa to farm with us, they should visit. If they couldn't make a visit happen, I told her, how realistic was it to think they would actually move?
She wrote back the next day - they would be driving out to see the farm in early March. And a few short weeks later, here they were on our doorstep.
It turns out that translating our aspiration to work with others on the farm into reality has been a whole lot harder than writing about it in a book. Offering farm land, even for free, is a hard sell when you live in an area with few young people and even less housing. To add to that, few farms near us do anything but grow conventional corn, soybeans and cattle, so no one thinks growing vegetables or raising chickens is a viable alternative. And without a doubt, the economic challenges of farming are sizable--if we can barely afford to farm, how could we possibly add others to our operation?
Yet this is really the nut to crack in farming: how can we get more farmers on the land, revitalizing our once vibrant communities, taking care of the land and creating more alternatives in farming?
So we have persisted and suddenly out of the ether came Alex and Kevin.
They too have the dream of running a weekends-only restaurant in a small town with fresh produce and meats from the farm, where people from the city can come, ride bikes and spend money, much like we dream about. They see the importance of moving the cattle and goats regularly in order to give the land a break, and would love to also have bees and grow vegetables, things we also hope happen on the farm. But perhaps more important than our coinciding affection for goats and BBQ, there also seems to be the right kind of chemistry between us, a commitment to kindness and to righting the wrongs done to the planet by humankind.
There is a lot to work out, the weighing of logistics, hesitations and dreams. And with or without Alex and Kevin we will keep on campaigning for people to join us in our endeavor -- we know in our hearts that there is no use in improving the land if there are not people (or better, groups of people) to take over when we are done. But I also not-so-secretly hope that the pair finds that Missoula has less to offer than does Lovilia, Iowa, with its water, fertile soil and our farm, and that we will see Alex and Kevin here someday soon.