If you had asked me what a cover crop was two months ago, I wouldn’t have known what to tell you.

I was born and raised in Des Moines, I went to urban schools, and now I attend college in the middle of the city. Agriculture has always been a foreign concept to me.

Until I clicked “apply” on an internship with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Through this position I get to experience agriculture in a unique way by meeting farmers from across Iowa and seeing agriculture from their perspective.

In my first month on the job, I visited four farms and learned about farmers and agriculture directly from the source.

Here are three things I have taken away so far:

1. Farmers have diverse and innovative ag businesses.

When I picture an Iowa farm, I see rows and rows of corn and soybeans. But that changed when I stepped foot on Ashley Wenke’s farm, Pleasant Grove Homestead, in Montezuma. Ashley and her husband, Zachary, have bees, meat birds, egg-laying chickens, and 43 different fruit and vegetable crops. 

And the Wenkes aren’t alone. Browse other past winners of Iowa Farm Bureau’s Grow Your Future Award, and you’ll see a cricket farm, a mushroom farm, and a variety of other farms that will help you shed any simplistic assumptions about Iowa agriculture.

Inside of a high tunnel at Ashley Wenke's Poweshiek County farm.

2. Farmers are passionate about sustainability—and learning from one another.

I can confidently say I have never met anyone more passionate than a farmer who utilizes conservation practices. From cover crops to conservation tillage, these farmers are trying to keep the land healthy for generations to come. They also love to share their experiences with their neighbors and friends through social media and conservation field days to continue building momentum in sustainability. 

J.D. Hollingsworth of Jefferson County is a great example of this. The day before I visited J.D.’s farm, he and his family had hosted a conservation field day for other farmers, where they demonstrated a new conservation practice they’re experimenting with this year: roller crimping a rye cover crop to provide additional soil protection and weed suppression for their field. It’s one of several practices the Hollingworth family has been using for decades, to protect water quality and ensure soil health for the next generation. 

I’m in awe of how open-minded farmers are to learning new practices and how learning never stops as they continue to meet the challenges set before them.

Behind the scenes of making TikToks and Reels about conservation at J.D. Hollingsworth's farm in Packwood.

3. Farmers are strong leaders in their communities.

I had the privilege of visiting the farms of two Young Farmer Leadership Award winners, including James Hepp, who is the textbook definition of a leader. Hepp is a first-generation farmer with a passion for conservation. He is also the Calhoun County Farm Bureau president and a volunteer firefighter. The list of Hepp’s involvement could go on, but it was evident how much he cared about his community. This has been a reoccurring theme with the farmers I’ve met. They are continuously striving to better agriculture and our state as a whole.

Behind the scenes of James Hepp's Young Farmer Leadership Award shoot at his Calhoun County farm.

Iowans from around the state, from rural towns to urban cities like me, have farmers to thank for their hard work and dedication to providing us with goods we use every day.

Whether I knew it or not, agriculture has always had an important role in my life. From the food I eat to the clothes I wear. The best part? Calling my mom every week and saying, “I met a farmer today.”

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