Moving out of the comfort zone

November 8, 2019

by Teresa Wiemerslage, field specialist

Farming requires a diverse set of skills. Farmers need to know about agronomy, food safety, business management, animal husbandry, conservation and more. What do they do when they want to learn a new set of skills? They attend a field day or visit another farm for new ideas.

The Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Network was created to help local food, beginning, and transitioning farmers learn new skills. They gather roughly every month to make connections, find common interests, and see how other farms work.

The topics are often suggested by group members. Our local food specialist on staff, Kayla Koether, does her best to accommodate those requests.

Two adults, one using chainsaw on fallen tree.
Maren (left) operates a chainsaw for the first time, under the watchful eye of the workshop instructor.

Special request: chainsaw safety

One request that took a little bit longer to arrange was a workshop on basic chainsaw safety and operation.

The workshop was held on a beautiful fall day at Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch near Fredericksburg. Maren Beard and her husband Tom made the hour-long drive from their Luna Valley Farm near Decorah to attend.

“It was intimidating,” said Maren. “Growing up, we had someone mow our lawn. On our farm, Tom has always done the weed-whacking, lawn-mowing, leaf-blowing and chainsawing while I have chosen other tasks.

“He’s fast and seems to enjoy those jobs. It’s amazing how so often we get stuck doing what makes us comfortable rather than challenging ourselves. On Sunday, I challenged myself,” said Maren.

“When it got to the hands-on portion of the workshop, I volunteered to go first,” said Maren. “Everyone else in my group had at least some experience operating a chainsaw and I knew that I’d grow more nervous if I watched them before taking my turn.”

Facing the challenge

Maren shared that she struggled to get the chainsaw to start. After a dozen pulls, she secretly hoped the instructor, or her husband, would come over and assist.

“Instead, I did it on my own and proceeded to saw off several pieces of a branch, all the while learning safety tips from Ben,” said Maren. “He said that the difference in my face from the time that I first started the chainsaw to when I made my last cut was remarkable. I could literally feel myself gaining confidence as I worked.”

Maren is not sure how often she’ll choose to operate the chainsaw on their farm. But she likes knowing that she can if it’s something she wants to do. 

One of the goals of the network is to provide a safe environment for farmers to learn new skills—even if those skills include chainsaws. Mission accomplished.

If you farm in northeast Iowa and want to get on the network’s mailing list, contact Kayla.