I have persistent fantasy of moving to a farm and buying a cow. It’s to the point that I often turn to my husband randomly and say, “let’s go buy a farm somewhere in Iowa.” He will occasionally indulge me and agree with a smirk, “it’s tempting.” I’m not sure if he’s being sarcastic. When my semi-rural dad first met Mr. Q (we had been dating a month) he told me, “He’s a fast talking city boy.” My husband fixes things around the house, has a terrific green thumb with houseplants, and gardens a little; it’s hard to say how he’d adjust to plowing. It would be tough for me, but sometimes I want to get away from it all.

I love living in the Midwest. But I’m not sure why “Iowa” pops into my head when I have more connections with other Midwestern states. I guess I just think of Iowa as a farming state. I also have the illusion that land is cheaper there and that our money would go “farther.”

My kid loves going to the farm. There is a small touristy (but functional) farm not too terribly far away and we go there more often than we go to the zoo. I wish every kid could have access to a working farm. There’s so many opportunities for learning as it offers a language rich environment (labeling animals and farm equipment, actions, cause and effect, etc). There are fewer animals in cages too. Not that I have a problem with zoos, but somehow it’s different seeing a domestic animal behind bars.

Actually the farm is quite possibly the perfect place for children under three. Looking through various park districts’ catalogs, there are tons of programs open to children three and older. But the little guys? Well, there is story time at the library and “play dates” with other mommies and kids, but for the under three set there’s “gymbor*ee” and that’s about it. Sometimes I feel doomed to letting someone run around at a playground, the pool or in the mall (admittedly there are few complaints).

For a toddler the farm is practically titillating! I mean, there’s poop and smells of unknown origins. Then loud “cock-a-doodles” coming out of nowhere to startle you. And cows with soft mooooos. The big wheels of a tractor to kick and try to climb. Little homeless kitties running here and there. My kid is in heaven.

It’s no wonder I want to move my brood to a different land, the land of raw milk and fresh eggs.


A reader emailed me and said that promoting organic food in schools is unrealistic. Um, duh. I would like to make it clear that I don’t equate fresh foods with “organic.” I’m not sure how that connection was made. In fact, I don’t remember even using the word “organic” in relation to school food.

I eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables at home, but purchasing organic exclusively is not financially viable for our family. Additionally it would be hard to do that just in terms of sourcing everything at the grocery store or even at the farmer’s market. I make sure to buy and eat the Ten Fruits and Vegetables To Buy Organic. That’s about it.

Just to be perfectly clear: a utopian world where all school kids eat organic food at school would be great, but I know that is not going to happen. What I want is a world in which my students aren’t eating 62 ingredient pizza and where tater tots and fries aren’t considered vegetables. I wonder is that too much to ask?

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39 thoughts on “Farms

  1. I live in Iowa. Although I am not a farmer, you are right, your money will go pretty far for the amount of land you get in most counties here.
    Yes, anything has to be better than 62 ingredient pizza!

  2. I am often also tempted to move to the midwest and own a farm, complete with cows, chickens and goats, and a garden that's to die for. I think I've almost got my husband 100% convinced, especially since I want to move just a short distance away from his family.

    We recently moved to Hawaii (husband is military) and it makes me sad how many things are flown in from the states, which equal a lot of freezer containers and extra "goodies" to avoid them going bad. Since I've never been before, I'm trying to find fresh farms or farmers markets to go to so I can at least buy healthy produce. By the way, fresh pineapple…as in just picked that day or within the last two days or so, is absolutely AMAZING to eat — even if it is a small pain to cut up.

  3. I don't live on a farm in Iowa but I live in a small town near the farmland in Minnesota. I LOVE midwest life. And yes, your money goes very far up here at least. My mother paid $1,000 for 5 acres of land behind her house.

  4. I live close to the middle of Iowa. We live on an acreage but don't farm. We are surrounded on three sides by corn fields. The farther from a major city you get the farther your money will go. Although if I was to tell my farming neighbors that I wanted to plant an all organic garden they would probably laugh at me… Even though I know that they don't use chemicals on their own gardens…

  5. I was born and raised in central Illinois and my dad's a farmer, though he grows corn and soybeans on kind of a massive scale like a lot of Illinois farmers do. I didn't grow up ON the farm, but my grandparents lived in the farmhouse, and I continually have dreams about one day buying that old house, renovating it, and moving my family on in to stay. There's even a barn and a machine shed for livestock and farm equipment! Although the barn probably needs to be shored up.

    We try to buy as much organic as we can, frankly, even stuff that doesn't "have" to be. I want to support not using pesticides wherever possible.

    I'll have you now, I -still- get an uneasy nausea in my stomach when I think about the rectangle pizza we got in elementary school.. and I've seen in your blog posts that it really hasn't changed in the years since.

  6. We are going to retire and buy land with water (a river would be nice). We will raise a cow, horses, a pig or two, chickens, cats and dogs. We will grow whatever veggies and fruit we like. My kids keep adding to the list, not fully realizing this is a post children dream, where grandchildren run free! Our youngest is 6, so we are talking a minimum of 16 years, assuming he gets his undergraduate degree in 4 years. We will saty in Texas, or at least the south. I can't stand long cold winters.

    Yes, pizza should have no more than 10 ingredients, thats including everything that goes into the sauce and toppings. Also, veggies should be cooked properly, not repeatedly zapped until they have past death and begun to decompose.

  7. I've had that same fantasy too – not a farm in Iowa, but here in Ontario. However, I am also aware that moving to a rural area isn't for anyone and for me it might be more of a fantasy than a realistic dream.

    I did manage to find a solution that is probably as ideal as it ever could be: three years ago we started a CSA – basically a shared piece of land where a group of families farm together. It's under 30 minutes from our house, yet it's in the country. The vegetables we grow are sufficient to feed our family all summer long, and then some – and everything is organic. For me, for now at least, it's enough to get that hankering for a farm out of my system. The challenges we face, whether they be pests, lack of water, or lack of farming knowledge are a reminder to me that my dream of living in the country is probably as good as it gets.

    Oh, and as for the organic comment: clearly that's not a realistic goal for government run schools in North America, right now. However, when it comes down to it, I believe local trumps organic. There's a lot that schools can realistically do to source fresh fruits and veggies locally, not just from farms in their area, but also by growing their own. In my opinion, an abundance of willpower and imagination are needed to make this work, while cost is less of a factor.

  8. Off subject of living on a farm… but exciting nonetheless. I saw headlines this morning that a group called Liberty's Kitchen is working with one of the toughest neighborhoods in New Orleans to bring fresh seasonal food with local customs with a grant from the Emeril Lagasse foundation. These particular schools have 96 percent qualifying for the free lunch program. That's a great thing. Read more?

  9. I made homemade pizza last night. It was about as far away from a 62 ingredient pizza as one could get with it's whole wheat crust, pesto, fresh homegrown tomatos and mozzarella cheese. More fresh basil on top. It was almost square however.
    Farming is a ton of work. Start small where you are. Put in a garden. See if you can get a plot in a community garden next year. See what the rules are for your area, the next county over from us you can raise a few chickens in your back yard.
    Omlet has some nice little coops that will keep the cats and birds of prey out. Join a CSA that will keep you in fresh raw milk. I have friend who makes cheese every other week with her share.
    For the toddler: swim lessons and kindermusic are the only other activities I can suggest. I really think that just playing in the great outdoors and getting dirty are the best.

  10. You might want to research farm mentoring programs. In some cases, a retiring farmer (usually without family to pass the farm on to) is willing to take in a new farm family and teach them to eventually take over the farm. In other cases, the mentoring might be guidance & advice (phone, e-mail, in person) in the start-up and operation of a farm.

  11. Thought of something else, Mrs. Q, but it might be something your family has already considered and discarded. I realize I’m guessing here, but it sounds like your family lives in an apartment or townhouse/condo at this time. Perhaps moving to a single family home in a rural town (I would suspect you could find excellent value for your money) or even a suburban area would be a good start. Your family could likely find a house with a yard large enough to have a decent garden. The cow probably wouldn’t be an option, but some communities allow a few chickens or other small animals.

    It might be a stepping stone to your farm in a few ways – a chance to start to play in the dirt, some opportunities to fix and repair, learn animal husbandry on a small scale, and so on.

  12. @Maggie — Starting small is critical! This year my husband planted a little teeny bit (tomatoes, corn, jalapenos). We started renting a small house that has a nice backyard. Next year we'll be more adventurous. Maybe one day a small farm…

  13. You sound like my husband and I sound like Mr. Q. I am a city girl through and through, so a farm is not for me. However, I LOVE living in the midwest (preferably I would move to Chicago, but the hubs won't agree to that!)

    I live in Iowa, but I don't feel my money goes really far. Of course, I live in the most expensive city/county in the state where the cost cost of housing is inflated due to the doctor's at a major research hospital and the university…

  14. It's goats I want… There are some small farms I go past on my bike rides, and it's a dream to buy one, grow a huge garden, and get raise chickens and goats (and maybe sheep). But it's not feasible. Sigh.

    So my garden here keeps getting bigger, and after my elderly dog passes away, I'd like to get some chickens. Goats are not allowed in the city, however…

  15. Mrs. Q, I am surprised to see you advocating raw milk. I don't think the potential (and some would argue unreal) benefits could ever outweigh the potential dangers for my family. Overall I love the blog… that's the first disagreement I've had so far 🙂

  16. @becboo84 — not advocating raw milk, just being poetic. but farmers and farm families do drink the real stuff.

  17. *lol* My agrarian dream is to move to the Scottish highlands and raise goats and sheep. Whenever hubs gets frustrated with the government, he now says "I think we'll be moving to Scotland after all." 🙂 I'd love some layers too, if I could ever get over my fear of chickens (weird, I now, but those beaks are sharp!).

    Alternatively, a house in Florida with a big yard would let me grow fresh limes and oranges. *sigh* Now THAT's living!

  18. There's a raw milk dispenser (by the liter) on my way to work. I've always been a little tempted… but not tempted enough!

    Unfortunately, organic ultimately won't be the solution to our food needs – the yields could never be big enough to support the entire human population (as it now stands). However, it is a delicious privilege for those who can afford it/grow it. Maybe someday we can develop less toxic pesticides so everyone can be fed nutritious – and safe! – foods.

    Of course, no one will work on such things unless we start to demand them. So thanks, Mrs. Q, for getting the conversation going!

  19. Have you seen the show "The Fabulous Beekman Boys"? Two guys from NYC who moved to a farm — great show and they talk a lot about appreciating food. They also have a garden and cook a lot of vegetables.

  20. I was born and raised in Missouri. One of my great uncles had a huge farm about an hour outside St. Louis. He raised hogs, corn and soy beans for a living. He also raised chickens, a few milking cows, and just about every vegetable you can imagine for family consumption. The hogs were the most fascinating attraction for us kids. We used to hang over that fence constantly and never tired of watching them.

    My great uncle worked very hard and his children were all expected to help out from a young age but they lived in a nice house and wore nice clothes. My great uncle always drove a late model truck and my great aunt always had a late model station wagon. Their kids all graduated from college debt free and a couple of them went on to earn post-graduate degrees. None of them followed in their father's footsteps, though, and the farm was sold off in bits and pieces to developers after he and my great aunt died.

    I have other relatives on that side of my family who had farms near Branson, MO but their land wasn't as well-suited for growing crops and they weren't as successful at farming as my great uncle mentioned above. In fact, they were very very poor. A major potion of that land is now under Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake near Branson as a result of a dam that was built in the early part of the last century and another dam built mid-century. The fed. gov't bought the land that was flooded and the rest became lakefront property. Poor farmers became successful land developers and resort operators but they all continued to live on small family "farms" where they maintained a few animals and big household gardens. When we visited my great grandmother (always in summer), she used to make us fried green tomatoes, corn on the cob, greens, home baked bread or biscuits with butter from her "milker," and sweet tea (note no meat except for neck bones or salt pork that just flavored the greens and were fished out and discarded before serving). That was our typical evening "supper." City folks called it "dinner" according to her and we were determined not to be city folks as long as we were in her house so we were careful to call it "supper," too. If it were up to my Granny, this blog would be called, "Fed Up With Dinner: The School Dinner Project." because dinner is the noon meal, not the evening meal according to her.

    To be continued. I'm on a roll here…..

    KimMinCT (formerly commenting as Kim)

  21. Part 2 continued from above….

    WordVixen, if you don't want to get pecked by a hen when you pick her up, make sure she's not guarding her nest (i.e. she's in the yard, not in the coop). Call "chick chick chick" and slowly walk up behind her. Stoop down and calmly put your hands on her wings and pick her up. If she tries to flap her wings, abort the operation and move on to another hen. Sometimes you can get hens to bond with you before you pick them up. Talk to them ("chick chick chick") and give them a chance to answer you back. If you spend a little time with them before picking up hens, they'll get used to you and you'll get to know the body language that says, "OK, you can pick me up."

    As bucolic as my midwestern childhood farm experiences were, I now live in CT and wouldn't trade living near the ocean for anywhere else. I live for the beach, but I'm lucky to also live in a community where I'm surrounded largely by fruit orchards and berry farms. There are other types of farms nearby, too. There's one farm just half a mile away that has a petting yard and offers lots of activities for kids (hay rides, cider making classes, art projects using farm products to name just a few). They also operate a farm stand. When I stop there, I always have to dote on their potbelly pigs. One of them (named "Fudgsicle") likes to roll over on her back to get me to scratch her belly. I enjoy getting my farm fix!

    My sister still lives in St. Louis and she's always harassing me to move back there. Even though I really like it there, I always tell her, "Get an ocean and then we'll talk!" My butt in a sand chair + a really good book + salt water lapping at my feet + a gorgeous view that includes not one, but two, lighthouses = my idea of heaven on earth. I think my sister needs to move here, not the other way around.

    KimMinCT (formerly commenting as Kim)

  22. I was recently in Champaign-Urbana visiting my brother and as we were passing miles and miles of farm land, he pointed out a plot of land along the side of the road…it was a student-run farm that produced all the veggies and herbs for the dorms! I thought this was just an amazing idea that students would want to really know where their food was coming from and take the initiative to spend time away from books and computer screens to grow their own food.

    I just thought it was a great thing and wondered how many other college campuses do this? I am aware that not all campuses can do this. I am currently in grad school at the University of Louisville and there is no farm land around for the students to grow their own food for the dorms, but for those schools who do have the land, more power to them!

  23. Hilary, I wonder how many of those students raising veg for the dorms are ag or horticulture majors. It's nice and encouraging to hear that something like this is in place especially at such a large school where it can benefit so many students.

  24. Kim- Thanks for the tips! It's much more helpful than the "don't be scared" or "they're more afraid of you than you are of them" that I normally get! 🙂

    I can't have chickens where I am now, but I mentioned it to hubs last night, and so far he's not arguing about it for when we eventually buy a house (assuming that there will be an actual yard).

  25. I think it is unrealistic to even think about going organic. I would love to go completely organic at home or even at the school but financially it would be a disaster. Our garden is organic and we do use local organic farms at the school. I think the real point, it's to bad that more things are not organic. We accept the fact that when we go to the grocery store and our fruits and vegetables are conventional. Pesticides are a common practice (don't get me wrong I understand why we use them but most are very harmful). They cause allergies and frankly it's all about money and production on a large scale for most industrial growers.That's were the real issue is. So I guess if you can support local farms as much as you can.

  26. As an Iowan, I would like to point out the work of fellow Iowan Norman Borlaug (humanitarian and Nobel laureate, called "Father of the Green Revolution): by his best calculations (no drought, no blight, no insect infestations), he determined organic farming could feed 4 billion people. The world holds 7 billion. So 3 billion people would starve. Just sayin'.
    And according to my most recent research, most of our "organic" produce sold in stores comes from…CHINA. How much are we trusting stuff from there nowadays?

  27. @Kimberly- Last year I visited my brother in Hawaii. I had some of the most delicious fruit at Aloha Bowl flea market in Aeia. If you are stationed on Oahu it is worth the trip to that flea market.

    @ Mrs. Q- I love Iowa and I think we would be happy to have a women like you teaching our young people.

  28. This summer I discovered that I have a true passion for growing veggies and fruits. I planted a garden last year (my very first)and it was fun, nothing awesome. It was some rogue pumpkins that really got me going this summer. I used some old pumpkins from last Halloween in a compost for some sickly trees in my yard. I thought most of the seeds had already been scooped out, but I was wrong. I noticed some large leaves and vines growing under those trees this past May, and sure enough, rogue pumpkins! I now have several healthy vines with beautiful orange flowers growing on them (no sign of pumpkins), but I love them anyhow. I can't explain why these lost pumpkins sparked such a passion in me, but they have. Someday I hope to live on a farm as well, and sell my wares at a farmer's market.

  29. @Angie – LOVE IT!! I definitely am suffering from barnheart…. hopeless case of it too

  30. Actually, I think land in Iowa is kind of high, since it is fertile and (mostly) flat. At least our farm land is! But I suppose if you are comparing to to an acre lot in the city or a suburban housing development, yes, it is a much better deal to buy in the country. I'm thinking more on the scale of our 300 acres of corn/soybean fields!

    Another fun benefit of being a farm girl is the barter system! Last Summer/Fall I traded apples, homemade applesauce, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, squash, green beans, beets, and a plethora of other goodies for products and services from various area vendors. Things I received in the barters: professional massage, ear candleing treatment, herbal insect repellant and healing balms, homemade shampoo bars, ingredients to make homemade laundry detergent, essential oils, Reiki treatments, lip balms and other beauty products, facial soap, room/linen fragrance spray, chiropractic treatments, home canned pickles and other edible goodies. I definitely know a great group of people with great talents!

    On the milk subject, as an alternative to raw milk, there is a the very reasonable hormone-free, antibiotic-free, grass-fed, pasteurized-but-not-homgenized milk option. Did you know that BGH (bovine growth hormone) is pretty much torture to cows? They get an injection every day which makes them produce more milk. They then have to be milked 3 times per day instead of the standard 2 times per day. The girls hate getting the daily injections, the increased milking is stressful to them, the hormones are costlty to the dairy farmer, extra hired hands are needed to run the miling parlor AND the hormones are passed into the milk we drink causing a multitude of other problems.

    I'd also like to add that in Des Moines (Iowa) they now allow people in the city to have chickens in their yards. I think this is a new thing since the recession. However, I just can't envision very many city people beheading, plucking and processing chickens like we did on the farm when I was a kid!!

    Mrs. Q, we would love to have your family move to our area! Maybe after your big reveal in January you will receive offers for public speaking jobs, do the talk show circuit for awhile, run for government office or be a school nutrition consultant, move your family to central Iowa and settle into a nice rural community where you can spend your time writing books from the serene comfort of your own back yard!! This is my dream for you!

    We should set up a play date for our kids.
    😉 (just kidding)

  31. Following up on Amber's comment – I can't help you with raw milk (it's illegal though there are ways of getting around it) but I can point you to a good, local supply of local, hormone-free milk in Illinois. Kilgus farmstead ( makes some excellent milk. The milk is from Jersey cows (better flavor but lower yield which is why they aren't the industry standard) and is non-homogenized. They aren't certified organic but when I talked to the farmer he told me that is because a) the supplemental grain isn't organic (they mostly eat pasture, though) and b) they want the option to give their cows antibiotics if they get sick, They don't use growth hormones and they only administer antibiotics when there is a medical need – even then they discard the milk until the antibiotic has had time to exit the cow's system.

    No, I'm not paid by Kilgus – I'm just a really big proponent of local economies. Of course, it's easy to like something that tastes so good 🙂

  32. @Angie- Jersey milk is yummy, isn't it?! And just to clarify, the milk is pasteurized, so it is safe, but it is not homogenized, so you do need to shake the jug before pouring it. But if you don't shake it first, the real cream at the top of the jug is oh-so-yummy in coffee or cereal!!!

  33. If you're enchanted w/ farm living, you might enjoy the Pioneer Woman's very large blog at She left city life when she married a cowboy. They're raising their brood on a ranch now. Great recipes on there too!

  34. I have two backyard chickens and they are great. So passionate! and 14 eggs a week are plenty for us. I feel like such a farmer when I lug the refilled waterer across the yard back to the coop. They are so easy to care for – I really only go out there every few days – they are fine as long as they have food and water and the eggs will keep. I give them kitchen scraps and bread that's getting too old on top of their laying scratch.

    Here, chickens are zoned the same as other pets like dogs, cats, parrots, etc – you just can't have more than four total pets and no roosters (or goats, pigs, etc). My chickens were grown when I got my puppy so they bossed her around mostly. They hang out together now.

    Try "Goat Song" by Brad Kessler. I had a dream of having a goat one day and this describes it well (vividly, one might say). "Farm City" by Novella Carpenter was also quite enjoyable.

  35. Mrs. Q – chickens are great and so easy! but might be harder to care for in the snow; I don't know. I let mine have full reign over the yard in the rainy winter season since the yard is a mess anyway but come spring, they are relegated to the chicken run. My kids love 'em and the neighborhood kids come by too.

    The eggs are a bonus even though I have to remember the eggs are the reason.

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