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Gratitude for Farmland

Happy Fourth of July to you all!

On this holiday, it’s appropriate to reflect on how the farmland we own and work has shaped our nation and ourselves. As Southwest Iowa farmer Jon Bakehouse writes in his farm legacy letter: “My parents and grandparents provided me with such an amazing life. There is such turmoil in the world; I wish others could have what I have. Our son needs to understand that he’s very lucky, and he should be compassionate with others.”

My family’s story is a good example of the gift that farmland provides. In the 1920s, my grandparents, Carl and Selma Opheim, were busy working a northwest Iowa farm Carl’s father owned, and raising  eight children when their world fell apart. In 1929, the stock market crashed, the Bode State Bank  failed, and the family lost the farm.

“They lost so much,” my dad, Wayne Opheim, reports, “and my family became so poor. I always wondered about the psychological effect of losing so much.” Wayne was born later that year, and the family moved into town. “My dad then worked as a janitor at the Lutheran Church. I think the church felt sorry for him having all those kids and no job. In 1939, he applied for a job at the Bode schools. He came home one day and said ‘I got the job!’ We all cheered. And he was a school janitor for the rest of his life.”

Twenty miles away, my mother’s farming family thrived, and it is on this farm that my grandparents spoiled me when I was young. As with so many families, no one in the next generation wanted to farm, and my grandparents eventually moved into town. Over the years, I watched the farm I knew disappear—the chicken coop, the flower beds, the gardens, the apple trees (one for each grandchild), and the extensive windbreak we dubbed “Fisher Woods.” Toward the end of my grandmother’s life, a neighboring farmer bought the homeplace, but he left it standing until she died. Then, one day, my mother and I cried as we drove by to see neighbors demolishing the house. About 10 years ago, all that was left were two trees in the ditches. Now there are none. A farm obliterated, as if our lives there had never happened.

However, the gift of memories and monthly rental farm income for my parents has made for a comfortable retirement for them, and a financial security as they face possible end-of-life care. Perhaps even a gift of financial security for my siblings and I into the future.

Like my parents, pictured below, we are blessed!

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