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Capturing a Harvest of Change

Jayden Dammann, 3, waits for a tractor ride while his father, Justin, visits with others on the family farm in rural Page county on July 19, 2014.  Justin says he feels confident about the management of the family farm one day passing on to Jayden. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Joined by his dog, Blaze, Justin Dammann pauses to survey a pasture while tending to one of his cattle herds the morning of July 3, 2014 on his rural Page County farm. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Farmer Phrakhounmany “Air” Philavanh leads his cattle through pasture on his farm near Milo.  A Laotian immigrant, Philavanh remembers his grandfather's farm in Laos and has always wanted to farm in America.  He is raising cattle and plans to raise duck, a popular food among the Laotian people. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)A group of Union County men gather each morning at sunrise outside Frank's Service in Arispe.  From left are Marvin Ringberg, Mike Fry, Don Wilson, Frank Eighme, Randy Needham and Jim Bradley.  They sit on relics of the past, chairs from the long gone Arispe schoolhouse, which closed in 1994. The remote, weathered station is one of the few remaining commercial businesses in the southern Iowa town of about 100. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Chemical free farmer Matt Russell holds a freshly harvested red onion on his farm near Lacona on July 11, 2014. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Denny Wimmer, 58, carries a bin of freshly-harvested zucchini on his organic farm in Arispe on July 31, 2014.   The farm has been in the Wimmer family since 1919.  Denny left his sales career in Chicago three years ago to return and launch an organic operation on the family's 76 acres of land. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Mary Jane Narigon, 82, of Elston directs a group of seniors as they sing hymns together at the Tingley Community Center on August 1, 2014.  The center serves as a meal site for the elderly to enjoy some fellowship and lunch together. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Jillian Dammann, 7, leads Olaf the calf back to his pen while her mother, Jennifer, and brother, Jayden, 3, open the gate for her on at their farm near Essex in rural Page County July 2, 2014. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Farmer Phrakhounmany “Air” Philavanh is building his own duck houses on his farm near Milo.  A Laotian immigrant, Philavanh remembers his grandfather's farm in Loas and has always wanted to farm in America.  He is raising cattle and plans to raise duck, a popular food among the Laotian people. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Chemical free farmer Matt Russell harvests eggs from a chicken coop in preparation for the Des Moines Farmers Market on his farm near Lacona on July 11, 2014. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Fog blankets a valley at sunrise as seen from the Dammann Farm in Page County on July 3, 2014. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Denny Wimmer, 58, right, walks rows of squash and zucchini on the farm with his father, Don, 88, in the morning on August 1, 2014.  Don was born on the farm in 1926 and worked conventional crops and livestock there until his retirement.  Denny left his sales career in Chicago three years ago to return and launch an organic operation on the family's 76 acres of land. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Cattle gather as Justin Dammann delivers feed from a truck dispenser to one of his herds at dawn July 3, 2014 on his rural Page County farm. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Farmer Phrakhounmany “Air” Philavanh has spent years restoring the farm he bought in 2010 near Milo.  A Laotian immigrant, Philavanh remembers his grandfather's farm in Laos and has always wanted to farm in America.  He is raising cattle and plans to raise duck, a popular food among the Laotian people. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Arnold Damman's clasped hands, gnarled from a lifetime of farm labor. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Frank Eighme, 78, repairs a tire outside in his service station in Arispe.  He has worked in service stations in town for 56 years. "You gotta have a reason to get out of bed in the morning," he says of his passion for the work. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Denny Wimmer sets out onions and tomatoes while setting up for the Valley Junction farmers market on July 31, 2014.  Wimmer sells at three markets each week. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Young Jayden Dammann, 3, the seventh generation on the Dammann Farm in Page County, enthusiastically climbs over a gate to deliver a can of feed to the calves he and his sister, Jillian, are raising outside their home near Essex on July 2, 2014.  At only three years of age, Jaden has already developed a strong bond to the work of the farm. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Farm mechanic Jordan Dammann works to repair a tractor in the workshop on the Dammann Farm in rural Page County on July 10, 2014. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Frank Eighme, 78, owns Frank's Service in Arispe and still pumps gas, repairs flats and does oil changes daily. "You gotta have a reason to get out of bed in the morning," he says of his passion for the work. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Farmer Phrakhounmany “Air” Philavanh leads his cattle through pasture on his farm near Milo.  A Laotian immigrant, Philavanh remembers his grandfather's farm in Laos and has always wanted to farm in America.  He is raising cattle and plans to raise duck, a popular food among the Laotian people. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Justin Dammann peers inside an emptying grain bin as some of last year's white corn harvest is loaded for market on his family's Page County farm near Clarinda on July 2, 2014.  The family raises food-grade white and yellow corn.  This load was destined for the Minsa Corporation in Red Oak, a corn flour mill. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)Jordan Dammann, the Dammann Farm's master mechanic, sweeps out his shop at the end of the work day on July 2, 2014. (Christopher Gannon/The Register)This summer I savored yet another opportunity to document how wonderful the state of Iowa and it’s people are.  Harvest of Change, a collaborative in-depth project launched by The Des Moines Register and Gannett Digital in June, chronicles four very different Iowa family farms cast against our nation’s tranformative economic, technological and demographic shifts.

Three months of reporting from Iowa’s tightly-knit rural communities with reporter Sharyn Jackson yielded a wide array of stories and visuals.  Iowa’s farm families are as diverse as thier operations– some growing conventional crops for generations, others growing organic or chemical free produce, still others learning to raise livestock as first generation immigrants.

Two traits remained constant regardless of the makeup of the operation: an impermiable work ethic and never-ending hospitality.  We captured these folks rising before the sun, working through the day’s heat, often not taking a load off til long after the sun dropped below the horizon.  Yet we were always treated as family, sometimes feeling like it, too, occasionally joining them for a meal or coffee.

Harvest of Change is an exploration of a nation in transition, as seen through the lens of the family farm in Iowa. We look at major shifts, including the aging of the population and the decline of rural communities; the change of America’s complexion, as the country heads toward becoming majority nonwhite; the increasingly global connections that are altering business in even the most remote corners of the country; and the environmental challenges predicted from climate change.

We examined a cross-section of America with a deep-rooted commitment to the land they live and work on.  The people and stories of this project affirm a belief that I’ve always held: Work hard, live well.  I’m doing my best to emmulate you, rural Iowa.

Please do take the time to immerse in the project here.  My five mini documentaries for the project can be viewed here.

 

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