Thursday, September 22, 2016

Young, Enthusiastic, and Focused

Two ISU Students Join the CAST Staff--Ellen Jasper and Mikayla Dolch (scroll down)

By the Numbers--Setting Goals and Achieving Success

Unlike the stereotypical young person, Ellen Jasper is good with money and likes math. “I’ve had my sights set on a business career for some time now,” she said, “and that keeps me focused.” The Iowa State University sophomore is majoring in finance, and she already has an internship at the Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust on her resume.

As an administrative assistant intern at CAST, Ellen (at right in Europe with her dad and in a hug with her dogs) is learning various aspects of accountancy and the “cyber-paper trail.” “I’m looking forward to gaining experience in varied aspects of finance,” she said.

Ellen doesn’t have a farm background—unless you count her two dogs as livestock—but she did spend summer days free ranging on her grandparents’ farms. Ellen grew up in Cedar Rapids, and in Iowa, that’s urban. But both sets of grandparents live on eastern Iowa farms, so she knows about feeding pigs and the basics of crop production. “We climbed the silo, helped with chores, and had a great time on loud, dusty go-carts.”

Aside from her studies, Ellen likes to read, play tennis, and travel. During the past summer she joined her father for a trip through European cities like Prague, Vienna, and Salzburg. “I loved the history in Austria and the architecture in Prague,” she said. “I’m also impressed with their environmental efforts. I don’t think I saw any plastic bottles or bags there. They conserve and reuse.”

Back on campus, Ellen has joined a swing dance group, and she is vice president of finance for her sorority (there she goes again with that number-crunching). Staff members welcome Ellen to the CAST organization.  (by dan gogerty)

Continuing a Legacy Rooted in Ag

Being a part of the agriculture industry has been a family tradition for Mikayla Dolch and her family for the past three generations. Mikayla’s deeply rooted passion for agriculture was instilled at a young age on their family farm near Mortan’s Mill, Iowa, and that is what has led her to pursue a career in agricultural education at Iowa State University. Mikayla brings her passion and enthusiasm for the industry to CAST as a social media assistant intern this fall.

Growing up on a cow/calf farm, Mikayla (at left with her horse, Cheyenne, and speaking at an FFA convention) gained valuable life lessons from the agriculture industry. “I have learned the definition of hard work and dedication, and I've experienced the many joys and discomforts of agriculture life as mentioned in the FFA Creed.” Mikayla not only lives out the FFA Creed, but has been able to serve the Iowa FFA Organization as a state and district officer along with nine other family members dating back the three generations. “I knew growing up I wanted to continue the tradition. The agriculture industry is filled with genuinely nice and hardworking individuals, and that is where I saw myself in a career that has led me to where I am today.”

Mikayla also shared some of her favorite memories growing up on the farm. “Whether we were playing hide-and-seek around the farm at night, or rounding up cattle when they got out, it has been when the family comes together to work or have fun that have made some of my most cherished memories.”

Aside from her passion for agriculture, Mikayla likes to spend her time playing basketball, visiting with her role model and 100-year-old Great-Grandma Wookey, teaching herself how to juggle, and playing with her dog Maggie. On the Iowa State campus Mikayla is the secretary of the Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow Club, president of Winterfest activities, and a member of the CALS ambassador’s program. We welcome Mikayla to the CAST staff.

by Hannah Pagel

Monday, September 19, 2016

Manly Men, Fertile Women, and Weird Town Names

If Shakespeare could have Juliet wondering “what’s in a name?” then surely the residents of Booger Hole, West Virginia, can do the same. More to the point, maybe they should question who in the world christened their town with such a title.

A group called Estately searched maps of the 50 states to identify what they call “the most oddly named town” in each state. I’d heard about Santa Claus, Indiana, because its post office gets thousands of “Dear Santa” letters every December. Maybe folks from Ding Dong, Texas, have written to ask Kris Kringle to bring their town a new name. Or it could be that the residents of Boring, Oregon, petitioned Santa for a bit of action.

The names on the list make us wonder how towns get christened. We all know New York is the Brits’ way of sticking it to the Dutch who had called it New Amsterdam, and it probably only needed a quick sip from a desert water hole for some pioneer to proclaim Salt Lake City as the proper moniker.  But (or is it butt?) who decided on the name Kiester for a town in Minnesota? A recent commercial for hemorrhoid medication features a Kiester local on a bike urging viewers to get comfortable with the name and the medicine.

My own hometown—Zearing, Iowa—was named after Judge Zearing, a man who actually never set foot in the town. The 554 residents don’t seem to mind, but they might be peeved that another rural town—Zwingle—edged them out of the last-in-the-alphabet honors. Zwingle sounds like a bad candy bar or a smartphone app that is certain to steal your identity.
On the Estately list of odd names, only a few towns seem to come from individuals wanting a namesake for posterity. Handsome Eddy, New York, seems a bit vain. Bald Head, Maine, is probably realistic, but Big Bottom, Washington, seems a bit too honest—maybe it’s a namesake for posterior.

My favorite local headline comes from two small towns in north central Iowa. The legend seems to be true: when the groom from Manly married his bride from the nearby town of Fertile, the headline was “Manly Man Marries Fertile Woman.” Supposedly, they named their child after another nearby town—Joice. I believe that town was named after a banker, so that basically bankrupts the headline interest for those of us wanting to borrow more horrible puns from the family names.

Some town names might be awkward, but maybe we should celebrate creativity—we have enough Springfields and Riversides already. As one Iowa town’s name proclaims, “What Cheer.” And a town in North Carolina confirms it with its name, “Whynot.”

by dan gogerty (map from

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ode to the Harvest--a Ritual Revisited

The September moon waxes as it arches across the sky, and its beams light up the edges of the corn leaves, now turning light brown as fall approaches. Soybean fields have a yellow tinge interspersed with the remaining shades of green, but it all projects a sepia look in the moonlight.

It’s a good time to visit my folks’ farm—the crops are nearly ready, my brother has the huge green combine greased up, and Dad has parked two wagons in the shed. It’s the quiet before the harvest storm, and I’m able to sit on the front step and time travel. I slip into my Rocky and Bullwinkle Wayback machine and dial it up for 1967.

A large grain bin sits north of the house, and I see the pilot light flare up and hear the whine of the dryer fan as the heater kicks in. I walk through crunchy leaves and into a cool north breeze that slides in through the pines. The day’s last load of corn sits near the bin, and the auger hypnotizes me as it moves the grain out of the hopper and up the tube. I look back and see low yellow light slanting out of a few house windows, and the dog runs over for a scratch behind the ears.

A lonely twilight falls across the pastures. I crawl up the attached ladder to look in the bin, high enough to see a faint glow in the west. Distant yard lights flicker and neighbors’ tractor lights bounce in the fields, their dim glow shrouded by grain dust. A thin fog of particles rises from the growing pile below me in the bin, and a faint smell of diesel exhaust mixes with the scent of corn kernels and autumn leaves.

I’m only thirty feet off the ground, but the horizon seems to curve off in all directions—I see the silhouettes of the harvest moving along in field after field. The earth rotates in the fading light, and farmers cling to its surface, pulling in the grain they planted four months ago. The harvest is a ritual dance of man, machine, and the good earth.
The USDA is predicting a bin buster this year, and many farmers will approach the coming harvest with modern-day equipment and precision techniques. New combines are like agricultural mega-transformers, and huge semi-trucks move the corn to towering grain elevators in town. It won’t be long before drones and robots complete the harvest while the farmer sits in command central.
The moon has inched a bit higher, and I look across the wide stretch of fields--many farm houses are gone. I no longer hear the neighbor's dog barking in the distance; pigs don't lift the feeder lids in the now vacant lot by the barn; smoke-billowing tractors have been replaced by sleek machines. When did so many farms float off the prairie? The harvest will go on—safer, more efficient, but in some ways, a bit lonelier.

Farmers will still work to keep their machines moving; grain will flow into the hoppers; and if I come back to this spot in three weeks, I’ll see Dad driving a load of corn in from the south forty. The lights from my brother’s combine will be bouncing in the terraced field across the creek. And if I climb the old bin they still use, I might not see the chorus of neighbors dancing through nearby fields, but I’ll see a modern version of the cosmic ritual called the harvest.  

by dan gogerty (top photo from usda, bottom photo from