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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,
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.
"The women in our Generation Farmers group told us once
there's no longer a house on the farm, and you have to stay in a hotel, then
you're more of a guest than a member of the community," Hansen says. "One
of the goals of the Generation Farmers is to feel part of the community."
The suburban Chicago family maintains its Iowa roots in a
variety of ways. One is through the Strahan United Methodist Church that Hansen's
family helped to found.
Her parents, Charles and Marilyn Kayton of Naperville spend
a couple of months each year at the farm. "Whatever roads our families may
take in the future, we'll come back home to gather at the farm," she says.