Mornin’ at the feed store
By DOUG CLOUGH
(Editor’s note: This the fifth in a series of monthly articles in which staff writer Doug Clough, a city boy, visits area farms and works for part of a day and writes about his experiences.)
IDA GROVE – I’ve recently found that nothing slows down a middle-aged man like a broken collarbone and a couple fractured ribs. For those who might be wondering, this did not happen during one of my wanna-be-farmer experiences.
It happened on my bicycle and even though I had the good sense to wear a helmet, it appears a set of training wheels might be in order. I had to delay work with a dairy farmer and rain put off a morning with a crop adviser.
A local cattleman thought it might be a good time for me to take it easy and join the local morning coffee group at Feed Headquarters in Ida Grove.
The feed store is the coffee hotspot for a few local farmers from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. each weekday.
A master gardener, who is known to attend coffee-time on occasion, said it’s a place where “you can learn just about anything, but you can’t teach anybody anything.”
After spending a couple hours there on a late-June morning, here are a few things that I did learn over coffee:
- Knee high by the Fourth of July is outdated: In the not-too-distant past, crops were looking pretty darn good if the corn was knee-high by Independence Day. Now, crops often look that good by the middle of June; but “knee high by Father’s Day” just doesn’t have the same ring.
- History 101: In the 1960s, the woman who still works at the feed store had to wear a checkerboard pattern dress. In the 1970s, she could wear dress pants; and since the late-1980s, she could wear jeans and a company shirt. She’s been employed by the feed store since the year I was born. I learned that I should not have pointed that out.
- Humor can be found in grim situations. The cattleman told of the time his cheekbone was shattered by a cow.
“I pushed myself up off (manure) when I came to,” he said. “The nurse wiped my hands and held the cloth up to the rest of the crew and said, ‘Look. Alfalfa … after it’s been through a cow.’ I started to laugh and found it not a good idea with a broken cheekbone.”
- Service to your fellow man. The town donut shop rushes to serve the same man who regularly performs artificial insemination. The coffee shop group also makes sure his donuts are at the top and easily picked by him without any need to sort through the rest.
- Supply and demand. Mulling over the local weekly, one member claims that there is a “conspiracy” associated with high herbicide prices and high demand. Immediately after, he tells the group he has some “old stuff” leftover that he’ll sell for twice the price.
- Dress. One grain farmer came in one morning with his shirt on backwards, the group figured it was to help him quit smoking as it was harder to reach the soft pack in his front pocket. It’s not surprising that an observant member also noticed that I had mismatched the buttons on my shirt. The group concluded that our wives should dress us in the morning.
As I wandered out of the coffee room and into the store and warehouse, it’s as if the morning session hadn’t happened at all. Bags of feed were loaded onto trucks, orders were placed, and all head out for their days filled with chores.
Among the banter, there was talk that you’d expect – the rain forecast, who’s spraying their fields and with what, and how many cuttings of hay each has done.
On this particular morning, part of the talk drifted to a retired farmer who is hospitalized, a farmer who had most certainly stepped into this feed store on a number of occasions, beginning his day with the same camaraderie.
Rand Whitney, who manages Feed Headquarters, encouraged the coffee-time tradition. His father, Clay Whitney, managed the store with partner Wilbur Hauschildt beginning in 1969. Rand Whitney began ownership in 1985. Hauschildt can still be seen at the feed store, helping out when needed.
“Where is the gathering spot for the ag community if not here?” Whitney asked. “Many of the regulars’ parents were my father’s customers. It’s a matter of loyalty and tradition.”
After my last cup of coffee, it occurred to me that there are, as the local master gardener said, many lessons learned during coffee time.
It is possible, however, that I may have been actually taught something.