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Veteran returns to work family’s farm

By Staff | Mar 22, 2014

ED COX, left, Midwest regional director of Farmer Veteran Coalition, visits with Aaron Dahlstrom, of Albert City, who has returned to work the family farm after his Air Force enlistment.

STORM LAKE – The ability to focus one’s goal and move forward, Aaron Dahlstrom said, can make a big difference in one’s life.

And for him it’s meant the opportunity to return to work his family’s farm.

Later this summer, Dahlstrom and his wife, Marisa, will find themselves “at home” on what was once his grandfather Carl Dahlstrom’s farm.

Dahlstrom said his parents, Arnold and Theresa Dahlstrom, are in the midst of transferring the farm to him and Marisa.

“It’s happening as we speak,” the 26-year old Dahlstrom said. The Dahlstroms attended the March 15 Farmer Veteran Coalition workshop at Buena Vista University, in Storm Lake.

Dahlstrom credited the Coalition with helping him take steps to make his dream on the farm a reality.

While he talked, his father visited with workshop staff for insight into making his son’s transition a smooth one.

Ed Cox, Midwest regional director of Farmer Veteran Coalition, said the organization zeroes in on the needs of veterans wanting to farm, but has a second purpose.

“Approximately 49 percent of our military service members are from rural areas,” Cox said. “Their welcome back and making a place for them is not just a job, but a matter of returning them to their lifestyle.

“To have these young leaders back in their communities, not just as farmers, but as a manager of a co-op or other business, possibly as members of government and community boards, is valuable to the stability and growth of our rural areas.”

Ready to farm anew

The youngest of four siblings, Aaron Dahlstrom said while he always wanted to farm he wasn’t confident about reaching that goal when he graduated high school in 2006.

He attended Iowa State University studying agricultural business technology.

His lack of confidence, however, led to him dropping out after three and a half years.

Dahlstrom enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010, and in 2012 was deployed to Iraq.

“When my enlistment ended,” Dahlstrom said, “I felt that my time in the Air Force had given me the opportunity to mature and sort things, and I decided to go back to ISU and get my degree this time in ag studies.

“I had a clear-cut goal in mind and that was farming. My conversations with Dad about what I wanted to do also became more easy and concise.”

With FVC guidance and assistance, Dahlstrom has made his return to the farm a comfortable one.

He said with his first goal realized, he’s set others.

“There’s nothing that engages my mind like agricultural production,” he said. “There are so many different things I want to do in agriculture today.

“A lot of them that probably warrant changes, and I look forward with my knowledge and ambition to find new ways for farming as I can.”

Tools for decisions

Poppy Davis, a 20-year plus small farm business advisor, and a co-founder of the coalition, smiled as she listened to Dahlstrom’s story of returning to the family farm.

“Experiences such as this is what those of us working with the coalition feel is all about,” Davis said, “to reach out to beginning farmers and to help them think clearly on how to analyze their businesses, how to make them grow and how to keep analyzing.

“It’s important for us to remember that each individual keeps growing on his or her own schedule, according to their values.

“In our case, it’s a matter of helping these young farmers get their heads around the questions they have and to not make bad choices. We’re hopeful that we’re providing them with the tools to not only be successful, but to ward off distress when bad times occur.”

Davis said one of the most difficult challenges for beginning farmers in northwest Iowa is that it’s the most squeezed demographic in agriculture, since they are typically mid-level income operations.

So they must examine if they’ll proceed with traditional production farming, she said, with less profitability, or learn a riskier model of niche farming.

Niche farming has yet to be appreciated as an acceptable rural Iowa enterprise as it’s been embraced in California, she said.

Deciding to enter niche farming brings with it the need to be a strategic marketer as well as a farmer.

“This type of farming is a good way for those wanting to make a living on a small acreage,” Davis said, “and accept the fact that what they want to do may be counter to the image of traditional farming.”

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