Iowa means, "Beautiful Land." I moved to a small rural Iowa town (pop. 500), in 1958 when I was two years old. Small and rural describe most of the towns in Iowa. These towns were built by agriculture and were home to businesses that supported farm families and agriculture. Towns were built around market centers where farmers brought their grain and livestock to be sold and shipped to market. A railroad track came into town and elevators were built to hold grain. Farmers hauled in the grain at harvest in the fall to be sold and stored, then loaded into railroad cars for shipping to buyers in cities like Chicago, Kansas City or Omaha. It was much the same for livestock like cattle and hogs. It was a simple life. Easy going and peaceful. No wonder, Iowa also means, "Place of Peace."
The landscape has changed in Iowa since 1958. Many of the farm homes are now empty. There are many reasons for this change. Iowa is now primarily a manufacturing state. Agriculture is still very important to Iowa, and we will never forget our agricultural heritage, but there are changes and they are obvious when driving Iowa's rural roads. Children of farmers now have many more opportunities and many no longer stay on the family farm. Large corporate farms have sprung up all over the state. There was a "farm crisis" in the late 70's to the early 80's. Land values, which secured loans to farmers for expensive planting and harvesting equipment, dropped. Many farmers found themselves struggling to pay bills, purchase land or equipment. Many lost their farms and either retired, or moved to town to find jobs to support their family. Those who survived had to reduce their operation and give up land to pay mortgages. Some dug their way out of debt, others didn't. Large corporate farms became more numerous, buying land and changing the way livestock was raised. As a result, small towns have lost population to larger cities. Small towns have had to consolidate their schools with other nearby districts and close schools. Businesses have closed and markets are many times further away. Today, even with the dramatic changes in farming, agriculture is booming.
Farms are larger now. The bio-fuel industry has helped increase prices with new markets. Land values are again soaring because of investors buying farmland. Prices for crops like corn and soybeans have hit record highs. Family farms are not as numerous and are typically large multimillion dollar operations. In 1958, a farm family could make a living with 80 acres. Today farmers, with expensive new equipment and technology are farming 2,000 to 5,000 acres. A lot of these acres are land rented from absentee owners who don't farm. In order to maximize profits, fences are being torn out and farmers are tilling up land to the very edges of the field using every square foot they can to grow more crops. With these changes, many old farmsteads are abandoned and empty. Cheaper steel buildings are replacing barns. Barns are no longer used to store feed or livestock. Large confinement operations with new buildings dot the landscape. Old barns and other unused outbuildings are left to deteriorate. The old architecture is disappearing as farmers clear more land for crops like corn and soybeans. It is a good life for those who have maintained their farms and farm business, but it is an ever changing life. And it is still a "Beautiful Land." A "Peaceful Place."
The photos you see here represent the old way of life that is disappearing. Some has disappeared since I started capturing images of our past life. Much more will soon be gone. I have tried to capture the days that brought me so much joy spending time on farms enjoying the peaceful countryside. The memories are found on old abandoned farms where old broken down tools and equipment along with homes and barns, corn cribs, windmills, and country lanes are now choked with weeds. Roofs have gaping holes and foundations are crumbling. Old wells that produced a brackish tasting water, are covered and dry. Fences are falling over. The buildings are empty. The memories are defiant as they take us back to time we'll never forget. A time captured in photos lovingly taken in a beautiful land. A place of peace.