I drive until the Archway with a cheesy Old West escalator. We get Runza in Lincoln. Iowa has “Modern Rest Areas”.
When we land at the farm in West Branch, Iowa, Draco Hill, there are dogs and mulberry cobbler and another volunteer named Melanie, who is vegan. The house is beautiful and incredibly efficient (geothermal, etc).
Also there are guinea fowl.
Paul and Suzan, our academic-farmer hosts, are busy in the morning. I start reading The American Way of Eating, which is fascinating. (I read this book pretty much the whole time I’m here, and it teaches me a lot, although the author, yet another skinny white NYU alum based in Brooklyn, is a little irritating.)
In the afternoon we thin apples at the neighbor’s farm. I fall off the ladder and skin my arm, which will lead to a mildly impressive scar. Melanie turns out to be not just vegan but also Lutheran.
Later, we meet Grant, a startup farmer who Paul and Suzan are investing in, and discuss gluten. Grant is a red-bearded hipster who is gluten-free, and we are supposed to be his helpers while we’re here.
We pull garlic with Grant, then at this hippie Derek’s farm, Echolective. Farming in Iowa runs on a gift economy, and our labor is something to be traded—this is nice because it allows us to see a lot of different styles and situations. We meet a lot of hippies and they give us some fresh trout. One of them used to live down the street from Ben in Syracuse.
Slightly before the awkward sunburn which took forever to get rid of.
After her Hooverball practice (see: West Branch, Iowa), Suzan finally gives us the speedy version of the ground tour. They have bought this land from Big Corn and are trying to restore native Iowa prairie; it’s beautiful and there are fireflies and something we’ve recorded as a “priceless moonrise.”
We help out another local farmer, Jean; I pull beets and trim varities of basil for her CSA. At lunch Grant’s friend Daniel, a locavore (everybody seems to be a food geek, which is awesome), tells us that the smartest, cheapest way to be farmers is to live on a commune.
We are finally actually working on Grant’s land—his farm is large and has to be walked (no four-wheelers here). Our job is to compost his plants, which have names like honeyberry and seaberry and look hopelessly dehydrated. I begin to understand why unconventional farming is, well, unconventional. On the way out of the farm I get a Charlie horse in my stomach and am out of commission for the rest of the afternoon.
A girl we met at Echolective, Elena, who used to volunteer with Paul and Suzan, has invited us to the bar in Lisbon where she works. Ben and I drive to the bar; there is an impressive thunderstorm. At the bar we discuss bacon vodka, and a drunk named Dustin tells Ben to work for Pioneer.
We battle an old fence, and I learn how to make köfte, Turkish meatballs. In the evening Paul and Suzan have guests over, so the three of us go into Iowa City, the college town that hosts the University of Iowa, to listen to music. It reminds me of Santa Cruz.
Afterward we have a good bonfire on the property and talk about religion and philosophy. Fireflies, still.
Wood chipping, chainsaw trouble. We like to wood chip.
Also, there are academic conversations which are pretty rad. I learn a lot about farming politics and Big Corn. Paul is a radical anthropologist and Suzan is an ex-communist.
The guinea keets break their light bulb. Melanie and I pickle garlic bulbils in vinegar.
Later, Ben runs the tractor into a solar panel. Disaster ensues.
It is wet and we go to Grant’s anyway. Too wet to really work (plus Grant is MIA); Ben and Melanie disagree with me about this, since they have martyr complexes. I sleep all afternoon to try and avoid the fever I feel coming on from getting soaked. Suzan thinks I am a baby. Later there is a good game of Scrabble.
We clean the guinea coop, then go to Iowa City while Quaker kids are visiting the farm, to get out of the way. I spend some time at Prairie Lights bookstore. We see Hoover’s birthplace.
This is where Hoover slept