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Town and Ground: Grinnell Fetes Farmers with Lions’ Ag Appreciation Day

By Michael McAllister

John F. Kennedy is reported to have said that the American farmer “buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”

Add to that intrinsic set of setbacks the 2019 farming season: trade wars, tariffs, historically wet weather in spring, near-drought conditions in summer, falling commodity prices throughout the season, and—as a sour cherry on a stale cake—ethanol waivers.

In short, 2019 has not been a promising year on the Midwest American farm.  The good news is that it’s not over yet; maybe things will improve.

And the good news in Grinnell is that agriculture is respected and revered as a vital part of the area economy and the food and commodity supply chain in the United States and beyond.

Ag Appreciation Day is proof. 

“Not every community has an ag appreciation event like this,” stated Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, as though to substantiate Grinnell’s noteworthy nod to the agricultural underpinnings of the community.

“Thanks for being here,” he added, acknowledging the Lions, the sponsors, the farmers, and the non-farmers in attendance and behind the scenes.  “This is a great thing to do.”

Once a province of the Chamber of Commerce, Ag Appreciation Day is a Grinnell tradition with a twenty-year history.  The Lions adopted the celebration seven years ago, and several area sponsors assist with support.

Traditional features include Music by Route 66, historic and current equipment displays, farm animals in a petting zoo, a pint-sized tractor pull for youngsters, food and beverages from local vendors, educational displays from agencies such as the Poweshiek Conservation Board and the Iowa Corn Growers Association, and tractors—lots of tractors, some vintage, some new, some refurbished, some work-weary, but each implement proudly displayed and proudly driven in the tractor parade that concludes the day’s activities.   

The soil that lay beneath the prairie is detailed by a USDA tunnel display
The Grinnell Historical Society displays the walking plow that tamed the prairie.
Grinnell FFA members deliver two porcine participants to the petting zoo.  
Route 66 mixes classic country, vintage rock ‘n’ roll, Motown, and ballads.

Bill Menner MC’d this year’s event.   Mike Naig, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, served as keynote speaker.  Lion President Larry Wilson took the stage for the presentation of special recognition.

Naig, a native of a Century Farm in Cylinder, Iowa, in the northwest section of the state, holds degrees in political science and biology from Buena Vista University.  He served under Bill Northy when Northy was Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa.  He was appointed by Governor Kim Reynolds to take Northy’s place as Northy moved to the USDA.  Naig was elected to his appointed position in the November 2018 election. 

The secretary referred to the recent record-setting Iowa State Fair and the presentation of awards to owners of Century Farms and Heritage Farms.  During the State Fair ceremonies, officials recognized 348 Century Farms—100 years of single-family ownership—and 150 Heritage Farms, each maintaining 150 years of ownership in one family.

Naig praised the perseverance and stewardship of Iowa families that make their livings from such long-term commitments to Iowa agriculture.

He expressed pride in measures taken to improve Iowa’s water quality and soil health.

Naig, above, acknowledged “challenging times in agriculture right now.”  He cited words like “’extreme’ and ‘historic’ when talking about weather.”  He also referred to “challenges in the marketplace” such as “uncertainty around trade” and “uncertainty when it comes to renewable fuels policy.”

“We’re working hard to try to restore some support and restore some certainty in the marketplace,” Naig continued, concluding this segment of his address with the comment that there is “no shortage of things to work on every day when you come into the Department.”  

During his remarks, Naig also expressed appreciation to Grinnell Lion Al Henderson, a friend and chair of the Lion Ag Appreciation Day committee.  

Finally, because harvest time is approaching, Naig reminded everyone to be mindful of farm equipment on area highways and roads.  

This year, special recognition was accorded the family of Doug Kruse, posing below, because of Kruse’s active role as a Lion over several years.  Lion President Larry Wilson recognized Kruse as a “major force behind convincing the Grinnell Lions Club to take over sponsorship of Ag Day seven years ago.”  Kruse, a Lion from 1977 until his death in February of this year, also promoted Lion participation in detection and treatment of visual impairments in youngsters. As a facilitator of the Lions’ cornea transplant program, he logged more than 8,000 miles transporting materials.

Part of the tradition of Ag Appreciation Day is acknowledging a farm family and a farm-related business that exemplify the values of Midwest agriculture.  These awards were established by Jim Urfer of Grinnell Implement, another prominent Ag Appreciation Day promoter, who passed away in 2011.   He “really embraced this day and kept it alive for many years,” stated Bill Menner. 

A plaque set in stone commemorates Urfer in the south portion of Central Park.

According to the award nomination form, the Jim Urfer Spirit of Farming Award is to go to a farm family that has shown commitment to “good farming practices, resource management, conservation, and community involvement.”

The family must be engaged in farming and must have done so for at least three years and must reside within 35 miles of Grinnell, among other requirements.

The Ag Day Agribusiness Award calls for a business that is “committed to good business practices, resource management, conservation, and community involvement.   The award, meant to accompany the Spirit of Farming Award, was introduced in 2014.

This year, Roger C. Roudabush and his family, of Brooklyn, took home the Spirit of Farming Award. Roudabush, when still a teen, started farming with his father, rented his first farm in 1957, purchased his first farm in 1969.  Married for 63 years, Roudabush has also served as a school board member and as a county supervisor. 

“I’m honored to accept this award as a farmer…, and I thank the Grinnell Lions Club for making this possible,” Roudabush, pictured in the center above, stated.

Brooklyn is also home to this year’s Ag Day Agribusiness Award—Hall’s Feed and Seed.  Greg and Sandy Hall have operated their business for 27 years.  Offering agricultural products from grass seed to grain bins and most items between, the enterprise serves customers within a 40-mile radius of Brooklyn.

“They treat people fairly, and they’re well respected,” said Bill Menner, referring to the Halls, as he announced the award.

Greg Hall, left above, pictured with his wife and Lion President Larry Wilson, thanked those responsible for the award and spoke of the privilege he and his wife have in helping customers achieve their goals and dreams.

At the conclusion of the awards presentations, Bill Menner announced that more than 55 tractors were lined up and awaiting the parade, a number steady with last year’s participation. 

Riders mounted their implements and fired them up and concluded the day’s delights with—as always (and as always appropriate, given the primary sponsor of the event, the Lions)—a roar.

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