Laura Cunningham understands that a lot of folks can’t quite relate to what her life is like as a cattle farmer in northern Iowa. However, she finds that her dog, Annie, helps get a conversation started.
On her Twitter feed (@lifeonskyview), Cunningham shares photos of her adorable blue heeler puppy with the hashtag #sweetannie. Cunningham says she gets asked all the time — even by people she’s meeting for the first time: How is sweet Annie?
“I’m not really big into cooking, and we don’t have kids — at least not right now. I have found that Annie helps me connect with moms. Everyone wants to know what she’s doing,” says Cunningham, who farms with Annie by her side near Nora Springs.
Cunningham, the new chair of the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Advisory Committee, says she tries to do whatever she can to educate her fellow Iowans about cattle farming and beef nutrition.
Cunningham says her grandfather, who was an ag education teacher at Rockford Senior High and chartered the FFA chapter there, has always been her role model.
“It’s really a deep part of my family to be rooted in agriculture in north Iowa. It’s something that I’ve always carried with me,” Cunningham says.
On a local level, Cunningham worked to bring FarmChat to Central Springs Elementary School in Nora Springs. FarmChat, organized by the local Ag In Classroom program, uses Skype, FaceTime or other software platforms to bring the farm experience directly into school classrooms.
Cunningham gave the students a virtual tour of her cattle farm, asking the students to name a calf and educating them about how farmers care for their cattle.
“I see kids in town and they will ask, ‘Hey, how’s the calf we were following throughout the spring?’ So that’s been really cool and a way that I could carry on some of what my grandpa did, educating the community,” she says.
Cunningham and her husband, Aaron, raise Angus beef cattle and grow corn and soybeans. She says livestock are a great way for young people to get started in farming.
“The cattle are just a nice way for us to utilize the resources that we have and add a little value. We put the manure back on the row-crop land for fertilizer,” she explains.
A few years ago, the Cunninghams started to direct-market their locally raised beef to customers, under the name Skyview Farms.
“It has provided opportunities for some really great conversations about beef and how it’s grown. I always enjoy the opportunity to help people understand what they are buying and what they see in the grocery store or hear in the media," Cunningham says.
Last year, Cunningham helped organize the first Farm to Fork dinner in Floyd County. A local Hy-Vee chef prepared the menu, using ingredients sourced from farms in Floyd County, including Skyview Farms beef.
Cunningham also enjoys connecting with others on social media, sharing regular photos of her scenic farm, the black Angus cattle and, of course, her dog Annie.
Cunningham is a member of the North Iowa Bloggers group, which she invited to tour her farm. Most of the bloggers had never visited a farm before.
“They were standing by the cattle pen, and they wanted to know what the (cow’s) tongue felt like,” Cunningham recalls with a laugh.
“I think as farmers we are so involved in what we do, in the minute details, we just think that we’re going to get bombarded by these questions ... But really, it may be a question as simple as what does their tongue feel like,” she says. “It’s maybe a first encounter, first experience for people. But what’s ordinary to you might be extraordinary to them.”