Supper, food for thought
JEFFERSON – Farmers, state lawmakers, county supervisors, Jefferson city council members and other local influencers had a place at the table at David Ausberger’s exclusive dinner party on his farm north of Jefferson, and the Aug. 3 event became the talk of the town.
“Conversations build relationships and help people find common ground,” said Lisa Neilsen-Jaskey, who has served on the Jefferson City Council nearly two years. “It’s a privilege to be invited to the table and learn more about agriculture.”
More than 40 guests attended the invitation-only, white-tablecloth dinner, which was held in a tent overlooking the gentle rolling countryside near Buttrick Creek.
As he pointed to the nearby wind turbines, corn and soybean fields and hog confinement barns less than a mile away, Ausberger explained why agriculture matters not only to local communities and the local economy, but to Iowa and beyond.
“I’m an ‘agvocate’ and want to bring people together to learn more about food and farming,” said Ausberger, who is a crop producer and an active member of the Iowa Soybean Association’s Farm and Food Ambassador team.
Agriculture benefits all of Iowa, said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, who attended Ausberger’s event.
“One of the reasons Iowa survived the recent recession in better shape than most of the rest of the country is because of our strong agricultural industry,” said Baltimore, who represents House District 47. “It’s always a good idea to get rural and urban people together so they can share ideas and continue building those relationships that will carry forward into the future.”
Conversations abounded in the field as Ausberger’s guests enjoyed a catered meal featuring farm-fresh, Iowa ingredients, including roasted pork with cherry sauce and peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream from Picket Fence Creamery near Woodward.
Ausberger encouraged his guests to take a second look at the timber along the nearby creek, where his family has planted thousands of trees during the past 30 years.
“We take conservation seriously and try to do everything we can to protect the environment,” said Ausberger, who hosted the farm dinner with his wife, LeeAnna and their children. “I also like bicycling and ride about 2,000 miles a year on my bike.
“I don’t understand what people are talking about when they say you can’t enjoy the outdoors anymore in rural Iowa, due to agriculture.”
Ausberger, who has received the ISA’s Environmental Stewardship Award, manages a no-till soybean and corn operation and has received the highest level of participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program. He continues to refine the use of cover crops to help build long-term soil quality.
Everybody in Iowa should be so fortunate to have long, leisurely conversations over a good dinner with Iowa farm families like the Ausbergers and have the opportunity to ask questions, said Chuck Offenburger, a former Des Moines Register feature columnist.
“Dave Ausberger is recognized as an innovative, progressive farmer,” Offenburger said, “who is on the cutting edge of change in agriculture, and yet he is also known as a conservationist who is very environmentally-conscious and wants to do things right.”
Farmers like Ausberger are leading the way at this revolutionary time in Iowa agriculture, especially in terms of knowledge, technology, increasing productivity, ecology and economics, Offenburger said, who writes from his farm home near Cooper in Greene County.
“What’s going on in farming today is not only important, but it’s fascinating,” he said.
During Ausberger’s event, Offenburger spent 30 minutes visiting with farmer Jay Ostrander next to some of the modern farm machinery on display.
“Jay grabbed his iPad out of the cab and was showing me field-by-field, even row-by-row, how technology helped him do real-time adjustments in everything from cultivating to planting to applying manure,” Offenburger said. “At the same time, he was talking about managing financial risk and staying on top of equipment innovations.
“I thought to myself, ‘This guy’s not a farmer – he’s a wizard'”
Telling ag’s stories
Neilsen-Jaskey said she can relate.
Although she grew up in Council Bluffs, she has been removed from agriculture for many years. This was especially true when she and her husband lived in Chicago before moving to Jefferson, where her husband is an obstetrician at the Greene County Medical Center.
“Iowa farmers are highly educated and very intelligent,” Neilsen-Jaske said. “It’s very eye-opening to learn from them and see how agriculture plays a key role in economic development, which is something I’m passionate about.”
Offenburger said he is inspired by his farm neighbors.
“My wife and I are pretty noisy about the things we believe in,” he said, “and one of those things is the basic goodness of what Iowa’s farmers do.
“We admire farmers’ commitment to feeding the world, being good stewards of the land and water, and running their businesses in ways that benefit their communities, as well as their own families.”
While the Offenburgers have been around agriculture most of their lives, they are quick to acknowledge that have never been directly involved in it.
“The more we learn from talking directly to good farm families,” he said, “the better and farther we’ll be able to communicate their stories.
“And believe me, we get asked about farm stuff all the time by urban people who know almost nothing about it, except that they like to eat, want affordable food and also want the environment protected.”
Families like the Ausbergers put a face on agriculture and are an asset not only to Greene County, but to Iowa, Baltimore said.
“Their farm dinner was a tremendous success,” he said, “and it’s something that I hope will be replicated across the state so urban and rural people can come together for the betterment of Iowa as a whole.”
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