By JOE SUTTER
At age 4, Jerry Nelson was given a 1-day-old chick and quickly made big plans for the future.
He and his sister decided to raise the chick to become a laying hen and increase their flock until they could “sell it all and retire to the life of the independently wealthy,” Nelson said. “Our names would become associated with the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers.
“About then, we calculated, I would have to start third grade.”
Nelson’s farm didn’t quite go as planned.
It is stories like that were the roots of Nelson’s farm column, “Dear County Agent Guy.”
His years of running his own dairy farm also helped formed the basis of the column he’s written for 20 years.
Nelson amused his audience with tales from his new book by the same name Wednesday afternoon during the first day of the 2016 Farm News Ag Show at the Iowa Central Community College East Campus, 2031 Quail Ave.
After renting a farm as a young man, Nelson purchased his own place from his grandmother and began raising cattle there.
“That farm has been in my family since homesteading days,” he said. “That farm is where my father grew up, and now my wife and I have raised two sons on that place.”
He lives in Volga, South Dakota now.
Nelson told about the process of getting his book published, how he started with the column, and what it’s like to have a script you wrote presented on-air by Garrison Keillor during a production of “A Prairie Home Companion.”
In addition to his ill-fated attempts at chicken farming, Nelson told about trying to introduce his wife and her German-blooded family to a staple of Norwegian holiday cooking: lutefisk.
“You start out with a big honking fillet of northern Atlantic cod. As delectable as this might be, one must take a good thing and improve upon it,” Nelson said. “You age the cod in the sun for a spell; unbelievers call this ‘letting it rot.’ Then you seep the now stiff-as-a-board hunk of fish in a vat of lye. Infidels call this ‘soaking it in poison.'”
Audience members told Nelson about their favorite columns over the years – including one on getting a colonoscopy – and reminisced about what it was like to clean up the mud the cows would track into a dairy barn.
Now retired from farming, Nelson still writes.
“I get to talk to dairy farmers and I get to see the changes in the industry. It’s come a long ways, even in the few years since I’ve been out. They’re really scientific about it,” he said.
Nelson said he figured as a youngster he would know everything he needed to know by third grade, and could start farming then.
His parents wouldn’t go along with this program, and made him graduate high school, but Nelson never lost his passion, and started farming as soon as he could.
He’d never done any professional writing before the day he decided to write a spoof letter to his local county extension agent, Mel Kloster. It was a rainy day, and it had been wet for so long he hadn’t been able to get into the fields.
“I asked Mel if he knew of some cheap and effective herbicides to kill the cattails in my corn,” Nelson said, “and while he was at it whether he could help me get rid of the ducks and the power boats out there, they’re probably wrecking some corn too. And instead of writing Dear Mel I wrote, Dear county agent guy.”
That farm that’s been in Nelson’s family for generations was eventually sold, as neither of his boys wanted to continue farming.
His oldest son is an IT manager for a small company; the youngest is a software analyst.
“When they come home for Thanksgiving and talk to each other it’s like – zyoouuuuuuummm – way over Mom and Dad’s head,” he said. “It’s like another language from Mars or something.”
Nelson retired from the dairy farm in 2002, but still keeps a few Jersey steers at his place out in the country.
“It just doesn’t feel like a farm without a dog and a cat and a couple of steers to feed,” he said.
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