Home Away from Home
Nancy Kayton Hansen's stories about how she spent her summer vacation were a little different than the other kids in her Naperville, Illinois, school.
Every year, for about six years, her parents drove her and her sister, Nina, to her dad's family farm in Mills County, Iowa. They made the eight-hour-trek with their dog, cat, and six rabbits in tow.
"We spent two months every summer with Grandma," Hansen says. "July 4 was a big time in Malvern. We helped the neighbor kids get their calves ready for the Mills County Fair. We had our own club for selling refreshments at farm sales, and we showed our rabbits in open class at the county fair."
Today Hansen's suburban yard in Geneva, Illinois, is landscaped with reminders of the Iowa farm: a milkcan that belonged to her grandfather, next to her mailbox; a pail used by her dad to heat barley for 4-H calves; a pulley used to bring hay up to the barn hayloft; a wagon wheel; a 100-plus-year-old plow; and a water pump. Most of these relics are planted to flowers.
"Since we can't make it to the farm as often as we'd like, one way we've made sure the farm is part of our children's daily lives is by bringing things from there to our home and yard," she says.
Hansen, husband Jim, and children Katie, 12, and A.J., 9, have traveled to the Iowa State Fair three times to be part of Iowa Century Farm presentations. "Nina and I continue the tradition of going to the Mills County Fair with our families," Hansen says.
Their children are the eighth generation of the first Kayton farmer in Mills County.
"Dad has been very strategic about including his four grandchildren in the life of the farm," Hansen says. "Every year he gives them each a check from the sale of ‘their calf.' One Christmas our daughter, who was 5, opened the envelope with the check, a picture of the calf, and the bill of sale from the Red Oak Livestock Market, Inc. My mom told her that the calf was going to help her get to college. She looked up, puzzled, and asked, ‘You mean I have to ride a cow to college?' We retell that story almost every Christmas when the kids open their special gift from Grandpa."
Kayton Hansen's parents are gradually turning over decisions and tasks to their daughters. That's one reason why she joined with Mary Jane Hacker Glauber and Jan Costello Franck to form a group of women landowners called Generation Farmers.
"What it's all about is relationships," Hansen says. "Without strong local connections and good neighbors, we can't manage our farms from a distance."
Memories form the foundation of the Kayton family farm legacy, but her family also is looking toward the future.
"Every decision made on the farm is done with future generations in mind," she says. "We struggled with the decision to tear down our old barn, but knew it was the right decision for the future. The new barn went up last fall. To blend the history and heritage of the old and new barns, and its memories, we will use many of the barn boards as paneling in the bunkhouse of the new barn. It's there in case, we, or future generations no longer have a house to stay in on the farm.