Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Labor Day Parade, 40 Horses, and a Determined Man

During my boyhood, Zearing’s welcome sign boasted a population of 511, but the town swelled to somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 on a September day in 1972. The famous Sparrow family lived three miles from town, and their beautiful Belgian horses pulled circus wagons for beer companies around the country. For the annual Zearing Labor Day Parade that year, they decided to match a world record by having forty of these massive horses hitched up to one huge wagon.

The legendary Dick Sparrow and his assistants accomplished the feat, and old-timers are still proud of the widespread attention and the fact that the resulting traffic jam shut down Highway 65, a main road about a mile west of town. The actual size of the crowd depends on which local paper you consulted and whether or not the reporter counted horses and goofy teenagers, including a group of us watching with a bird’s eye view from the roof of the old Main Street drug store.

The parade usually included Boy Scouts trying to march in time, school bands trying to play in time, and an array of farm implements and business trucks—ranging from shiny new grain harvesters and classic putt-putt tractors to the septic cleaner’s “honey wagon” with its slogan that went something like “A Royal Flush is Better than a Full House.” 

That historic day included Iowa’s governor, a spiffy military color guard (they did march in step), and some impressive restored automobiles. Model T’s, Packards, Corvettes, maybe even an Edsel. My brother drove our ’56 Chevy, but by then it had been revived rather than restored. A friend had rolled the midnight blue American Graffiti machine, and they’d repainted it as an American flag. If you ignored the cracked glass, the dents and wrinkles almost made it look like the flag was rippling in the wind.

But the crowd gathered to see the horses, and when Dick and his crew brought them up the street, folks lifted kids onto their shoulders and stood on benches to get a view. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Sparrow once said, “It’s a little like holding back a locomotive under a full head of steam with me at the throttle.”

According to The Des Moines Register, the phalanx of horses stretched 110 feet from Sparrow’s fists to the front row of animals. The team stood four abreast in 10 rows and pulled a 12-foot-tall, 4-ton circus wagon built in 1920. Dick’s son Paul said, “When you got on top of the wagon and behind all those horses, it went on forever.”

The Sparrows drove the record-setting team in various parades and promotional events. Spectators appreciated the skill and teamwork—Sparrow could get the team to back up, turn corners, and stay organized in the midst of crowds and celebration.

In order to set a Guinness world record, the Sparrows twice expanded the act to 48 horses, but for us locals the Zearing Labor Day Parade was the highlight—Dick Sparrow on the wagon holding five leather lines in each hand, outriders keeping the formation tight, and volunteers scooping up the equine road apples. The only thing they left behind was the memory of a determined man, his stunning horses, and a small town that witnessed a big accomplishment.  

by dan gogerty (pic collage from showcaseiowaschools.org and chronofhorse.com) 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rushing into Ag/Ed in a Major Way

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of changes as I start my junior year here at Iowa State University—it’s also the start of many new adventures. Over the summer I made the decision to change my major to Agricultural Education. Not only am I really passionate about this major change (no pun intended), I also realize this is an unknown area for many.

So What's the Difference Between a Cow and a Heifer?
Hannah (rt) and roommate Kelsey off to class.
Two weeks ago, I came to college early to take part in primary recruitment with my sorority—a time when we prepare for taking on a new group of members, a weeklong event most commonly known as “rush.” As the days passed I was able to share some great conversations—a sister from California wanted to know the difference between a cow and a heifer. She was shocked when I told her that if we were cattle, we’d both be heifers. “I’d be a HEIFER? Well then what’s a calf?” she remarked, and then we talked about animal terminology for a while—don’t get me started about trying to explain steers and bulls. She didn’t want to hear about how that change occurs.

Another sister from Des Moines elaborated on how she wants to own her own sheep farm and then use her fashion design major to make clothes from the wool of the sheep, “I want to help people understand where their clothes come from; it’s something that I think is very important.”

Sororities often get stereotyped one certain way, but my sisters come from a wide variety of backgrounds; we are all different in our own way. We have chemical engineers, interior designers, animal scientists, fashion designers, elementary educators, and many agricultural majors like myself. Even though we have a wide a variety of majors, there are things we can all learn from each other.

During some of our conversations I was asked what I wanted to do with my major? It made me think for a minute, because to me when I say I’m an agricultural education major, it seems pretty self-explanatory. I told my sisters that I wanted to teach—but many of them didn’t know that I could teach agriculture in a high school setting, mainly because many of them didn’t have agriculture education programs in their own high school. I was able to take this time as an opportunity to talk to my sisters about agriculture and explain my passion for this industry.

From the outside looking in, agricultural education makes a lot of sense for students like myself—ones that grew up on a farm and had a direct connection to agriculture. However, agricultural education goes far beyond the bounds of “farm kids.” Agricultural education, as a part of broader career and technical education, allows students to apply knowledge that they have gained in other classes to a real-world environment with what is called the 3-circle model:

1)             Classroom Experience (taught by an agriculture teacher, which is what I am aspiring to be)

2)             FFA (national organization with a mission to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success) 

3)             Supervised Agricultural Experience (hands-on work/experiential learning that allows students to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply those skills outside of the classroom).

These three components make agricultural education truly unique because it empowers all students to succeed in a changing world by creating lifelong learners. The cool thing is that there are many careers in agriculture—over 300 defined careers—and that number continues to grow. Agricultural education doesn’t just set you up to be successful in an agricultural career—it sets you up to be successful in life.

So as my junior year kicks off this week, and my classes in agricultural education begin, I know that my passion for this career will grow as well—along with a desire to learn, to teach, and to connect with others from different areas. I’ve been told by many people to never rush into something, but when you know you’re rushing into a career of agricultural education—who can stop you? 

by Hannah Pagel

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bridges of Madison County--the Pokémon Version

Easy for me to dismiss the Pokémon phenomena--when we were kids on the farm, we weren't holding up digital devices, trying to capture creatures. We were throwing balls, climbing trees, pitching pig manure, and feeding cattle. But a recent conversation with a college student has me thinking. Maybe I'm too quick to judge.
Hannah and her family are rural Iowa stock--showing livestock at county fairs and building huge bonfires in the woods type folk. So I was surprised to hear that two of her siblings are Pokémon Go enthusiasts. "My ten-year-old brother had me pull over on a country road one day this summer," said Hannah. "He was after creatures at a Pokémon hot spot. He's bothered that he hasn't been able to capture a Pikachu." On the plus side, she admits the youngster is getting some good out of it. "He walked five kilometers--or 3.1 miles as he looked it up--so that some type of eggs would hatch on his game app." 

When I gathered eggs as a farm kid, I walked 40 meters--131 feet for you nonmetrics--to the chicken coop. The hens weren't as cute as the digital pocket monster characters, but their eggs were a lot more tangible at breakfast. Obviously, the Pokémon era began well after I was a kid, but I did happen to be teaching in Japan when the Game Boy version of it started around 1996. Cards, cartoons, anime. It became popular for many, even in the heartland of America. Hannah says her 23-year-old brother has been following the new app because of his childhood imagination. "He has tons of old Pokémon cards, and he likes to relive his interest in the original game." 

Overall, Pokémon Go is on the decline, according to this report and other indications. I imagine some of the "day trippers" have given up their fad following, and now the dedicated Poké-ists will carry on. Here in the college town where I live I don't see as many gamers fixated on screens that point to some imaginary flying pig or whatever, but I'm sure it's still viable even for some older students. 

Hannah says that she and her family recently visited the famous covered bridges west of Des Moines, and she reports that Pokémon is alive and well. "Players were at every bridge. These must be special PokéStops, especially set up for the game." 

That's fine with me. I'm not a Pokémon player, but anything would help the plot of the old Bridges of Madison County novel. The film version was sentimental syrup too, but it had good actors, and it's fun to think of Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep as Pokémon creatures--nope, no jokes here about Pokémon hot spots or hatching eggs.   

NOTE: Click here for an earlier blog Farm Kids Have a Built-in Augmented Reality--Pokémon in the Pasture

by dan gogerty (images from celestelaurent.com and journeyj9911) 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Where Buffalo Roam and Pokemon Creatures Wilt

Note:  August 15 is National Relaxation Day, and this site provides five pertinent links. But each day should have its "moments of zen," and one method is to power down and leave the digital world for a period of time. This updated blog considers a place where "GPS is useless, smartphones are dead, and Pokemon creatures wilt under the epic reality of days gone by."

Flowers Bloom in the Digital Dead Zone

I can time travel on the family home place where my folks live and my brother farms. The analog zone is close--a half-mile hike from the house, through the back soybean field--but in reality, it’s more than 150 years away.

Since 1856 when my ancestors first broke sod on the open plains, the five-acre prairie at the back edge of the farm has remained untouched. It’s not the only virgin prairie in central Iowa, and it’s certainly not the largest. As a matter of fact, it’s rather nondescript—but that’s the attraction of it.
There’s beauty there, but you have to look for it--or maybe sense it. Creatures don't show up on a digital hand-held screen. They rise from the switchgrass and float in the breeze.

The coneflowers, asters, and other prairie flowers bloom intermittently throughout the summer, and if the rains have been plentiful, muskrats make dens and trails in the boggy middle part. The few scrub trees are surrounded by prairie “rip-gut" grass, and butterflies float from milkweeds to black-eyed Susans. Goldfinches and meadowlarks chirp, ants swarm on large mounds, and a field mouse scurries through the undergrowth.

The prairie’s true beauty rises slowly, like a mirage. Native Americans ride through grass that grows nearly horse high, while buffalo herds thunder in the distance; early settlers pulling Conestoga wagons branch off from the stagecoach trail that runs from Marshalltown to Fort Dodge, and on the horizon sod houses form silhouettes against the painted sunsets; prairie chickens and pheasants flee a raging fire that sweeps from the west and drives my ancestors back to Pennsylvania—but they return and start again.

From Great-great grandfather Bernard right down to Aunt Ruth who now owns the deed to that section of the farm, family members have decided to let the prairie live. Ruth’s late husband, my Uncle Pat, once said, “That prairie is valuable—it can teach us plenty. We know how to grow corn, but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” A bit of tile, a heavy-duty plow, and a chemical cocktail of some sort would turn it into a grain producer. For now, it remains a hidden island in a sea of corn and soybeans.

Cousin Dennis farms some of the bordering land, and he thinks the thick grass and established prairie life have resisted drift and invasion from the biotech crops and chemicals in adjacent fields. “Some university experts came from Iowa State once and identified 150 or more species in the five acres,” he said. I hope he’s right. Maybe the deep topsoil with its rich organic matter, numerous earthworms, and ancient microbial mysteries has a type of resistance to the changes around it.
I also hope it remains lost in time. I’d like to think smartphones don’t work there, Google Earth maps haven't recorded it, and no GPS system will help you find it. It’s a connection to the past, a link to ancestors, and a sign of respect for the land that has been so bountiful for us in the heart of America. A piece of analog zen in a digital world.

by dan gogerty (photo from U.S.fishandwildlifeservices)