Play helps us learn about immigrant farmers in the U.S.

    Immigrating to a new country, facing a new culture, language and climate, establishing roots and becoming part of that country’s agricultural industry are daunting, but people from distant places come to America, face these challenges and succeed. The Chicago Farmers learned about relatively recent immigrants to the United States and how they met those challenges and how they fared with farming through a performance of the play “Vang” during TCF’s May meeting.

    Performed by Matt Foss and Cora Vander Broek, the dramatic presentation is a moving account of true stories of Hmong, Mexican, Sudanese, and Dutch immigrants’ struggles in the United States as they work to establish themselves in farming communities in Iowa. Based on the collaborative efforts of Poet Laureate of Iowa Mary Swander, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Dennis Chamberlin, and Matt, recipient of a Kennedy Center award and an acting and theatre professor at the University of Idaho, Vang, which means garden or farm in Hmong, brings four immigration stories to life and gives us a glimpse of what brings people to the United States and what happens once they have arrived.

    Matt and Cora assume the roles of photographer Dennis and writer Mary as well as the immigrants. They speak the immigrants’ words through actual interviews that Mary conducted and transcribed. Pictures taken by Dennis of the people whose stories are being told appear on a screen throughout the performance. Cora previously appeared at TCF’s May 2015 meeting when she performed the one woman play, “Map of My Kingdom,” which focused on the transference of farmland from one generation to the next.

    We learn in “Vang” that a Hmong couple flees the oppressive communist regime of Vietnam for America after a two-year period in Thailand. The couple sets out for America to become farmers. The man notes, “Plant makes you feel good.” The man and woman sustain themselves by working in hotels and eventually open a tailor shop in Iowa, but they also farm. While language is a challenge, the Hmong couple is successful and today is “the toast of the farmers’ market in Des Moines,” according to Matt.

    Joseph, who is seven feet tall, escapes from Ethiopia in 1998 and the brutality of the Muslims who are terrorizing Christians. “Mary” and “Dennis” relate his detainments, the need to eat garbage to sustain himself and his arrival in a UN camp. In the winter of 1999, Joseph is relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, where he works in a meat packing plant and eventually begins to farm. Along the way, Joseph also earned a PH.D. from Iowa State University and now teaches at the school.

    Benny and Ramona are immigrants from Mexico. They arrive in Iowa in winter and Benny works in a meat packing plant where he stays for 10 years. Through their many experiences, Benny and Ramona become great resources and support for their fellow Mexicans who immigrate to Iowa.

    Jahn and Doreen are from the Netherlands and they come to Iowa to begin a dairy operation through a program seeking Dutch farmers who will immigrate to Iowa. They are one of the 12 Dutch families arrived in Brooklyn, Iowa, to farm, but only two or three remain today, said Matt.

    “We have found that the second and third generations of these immigrant families tend to leave the farms and head for the cities. There is always the issue about which child will succeed the parents in farming the land,” related Matt following the play. “There are not a lot of formal agriculture programs for these new immigrants, but the Midwest appears to be in the vanguard of attracting immigrants for farming. The lack of availability of land is the biggest obstacle. The newest wave of immigrants coming to Iowa is from Myanmar. They come to work in the meat packing plants.” 

    2016 Plowman of the Year named

    The Chicago Farmers named Andy Holstine Plowman of the Year for his outstanding service and leadership to the group during the May 9, 2016, annual meeting. Andy served as president of TCF for two terms. He also has served two terms as vice president and several terms on the board of directors. Currently, Andy, an attorney, is filling a director vacancy on the board.

    “Andy has been very generous with his time and knowledge,” said President Eric Rund as he presented the Plowman award to Andy. “He has always been supportive of Chicago Farmers and me. We greatly appreciate Andy’s contributions.” 

    2016 officers and directors elected

    The Chicago Farmers’ 2016 officers and directors were elected during the May 9 annual meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

    The officers include Barbara Clark, president; Mark Thorndyke, vice president; Eric Rund, past president; Sharon Perry, secretary; and Brian Duke, treasurer. Among the board of directors are: serving the first year of a first two-year term, Landon Frye and Alan Gunn; serving the first year of a second two-year term, David Oppedahl and Dan Stokes; serving a director vacancy for the second year of a first two-year term, Andy Holstine; and serving the second year of a second two-year term, Bruce Ahrens.

    Past President Eric Rund thanked retiring directors Dr. Susan Kern and Pete Petges for their service and commitment of time to TCF.

    Picture caption:
    2016 officers and board of directors, from left, back row, Andy Holstine, Alan Gunn, Brian Duke, and Landon Frye; from left, front row, Mark Thorndyke, David Oppedahl, Barbara Clark, Sharon Perry, Bruce Ahrens, and Eric Rund. 

    TCF scholarship awarded to Iowa State student

    Iowa State University student David Turnis is a recipient of a $1,500 Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. Currently a sophomore majoring in agricultural studies, David has a GPA of 3.39. His goal is to complete his degree at Iowa State and return to his family’s farming operation to farm with his brother.

    While at Iowa State, David has been involved in a number of clubs. Among these are Farm Operations Club, Collegiate Beef Team, Beginning Farmers Network, and Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization. He said he serves on several committees in these clubs and enjoys learning about agriculture with his fellow students. David also has a part time job to help pay for his tuition. “It’s not always easy to juggle school, work and extracurricular activities, and I am truly grateful for the assistance that I am receiving because of your thoughtful gift,” David wrote to The Chicago Farmers.

    David went on to write, “Receiving this scholarship really makes me work even harder to improve my current GPA and become the best student I can be. After graduation I look forward to being able to give back to the community once I begin my career in agriculture. I thank you for your confidence and willingness to help me achieve my goals.”

    TCF member visits Icelandic greenhouse operation

    TCF member visits Icelandic greenhouse operation

    Chicago Farmers’ member Marilyn Mayer and her daughter, Hillary, visited Iceland over Thanksgiving last fall and they found the country beautiful, enthralling and full of agricultural surprises.

    “We visited Fridheimar Greenhouse, which grows tomatoes all year in a charming family run operation,” related Marilyn.  “It can do so because of the extensive geothermal advantages of Iceland.  With 130 volcanoes and vast quantities of underground heated water, greenhouses are a breeze.”

    Marilyn continued, “Green energy, pure water and organic pest control are the Icelandic standards.  Geothermal water flows into the greenhouses at 203 degrees Fahrenheit, and sunlight is maximized by glass panes only 4mm thick—with hot water compensating for the heat loss.  Hydro and geothermal power plants produce the additional electricity that is needed.  Photosynthesis is enhanced by using carbon dioxide produced from natural geothermal steam.  And ‘boxes of bees,’ imported from Holland, finish the job with pollination.”

    Marilyn said that a little café within the greenhouse lets visitors enjoy soup made from the tomatoes, and salads composed of greens, basil and cucumbers that also are grown in the greenhouse. 

    “We found the greenhouse experience to be a magical oasis in the cool climate of Iceland,” Marilyn said.  “And after our soup, we were able to go off to the Blue Lagoon spa not far away and actually swim outdoors in a geothermal pool, although the outside temperature was only 18 degrees Fahrenheit.  Overhead, the Northern Lights ‘came on’ to shower the sky with eerie green waves and darting white streaks.  A magical country indeed!”

    Photos 1:
    Exterior view of the greenhouse in Iceland.

    Photo 2:
    Tomatoes growing in the greenhouse in Iceland this past fall. 

    Photo 3:
    One of the beehives purchased for the greenhouse from Holland.

    Picture 4:
    Marilyn Mayer, right, and her daughter, Hillary.