Blogger: Farmers in it for 'long haul'
FARGO, N.D. -- A new Iowa agribusiness graduate is on an epic mission she calls the "Why I Farm Roadtrip" -- gathering blog interviews of farmers in all 50 states.
FARGO, N.D. - A new Iowa agribusiness graduate is on an epic mission she calls the "Why I Farm Roadtrip" - gathering blog interviews of farmers in all 50 states.
"It's a real privilege," said Natalina Sents, 23, who recently stopped through North Dakota.
Sents was in Minnesota the week of Oct. 30 to Nov. 3 and in North Dakota the week of Nov. 4 to Nov. 9. While in North Dakota, she interviewed the Laura Rutherford family, and then to Aneta, N.D. She expected to be in her 25th state - South Dakota - Nov. 10 to 14, in Sioux Falls and elsewhere. She'll get to Montana in the spring.
She started with a northeast U.S. loop, an East Coast loop, and a flying trip to Alaska in September.
Sents so far has put on more than 35,000 miles in her green Ford Fiesta that she calls Kermit. She often stays with farm families or others, and expects to cover more than 100,000 miles before she's finished in May 30.
She plans to step back from travel during the winter months. "My goal is not to travel in snow and ice," she said.
Sents grew up in Columbus Junction, Iowa, a small town south of Iowa City. The eldest of three children of a small-town attorney and court reporter. Since elementary school, she's had a fascination with the 50 states, and decided to travel to each of them by the age of 25.
She's passionate about agriculture, but admits she was mainly familiar with corn, soybeans, cattle, hogs and sheep from her home area. Through high school she sold photography, baked goods and garden vegetables in a local farmer's market as part of an FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience project.
"At the farmer's market, I got the chance to talk to other farm vendors and learned a lot," she said. "I've always felt that ag was a very welcoming place."
She went on to Iowa State University in Ames where she graduated on May 7, with a degree in agricultural business.
A pivotal point in her education came in 2013 when ISU's Agricultural Business Club viewed a video from Beck's Hybrids video, explaining the company's "Why I Farm Movement."
In 2013, Beck's started producing two- to five-minute videos to share farmers' stories online. "I got goosebumps and a lump in my throat," she said, describing the power of the farmers' stories.
Beck's Hybrids was started in the 1930s and is now estimated to be America's sixth-largest seed company. It is known as America's largest family-owned, retail seed company, based near Indianapolis. The company sells corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and cover crops in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri.
Sents immediately wanted to work for Beck's.
"I ended up stalking them," she half-joked, noting she was initially "crushed" when she was denied a Beck's internship in 2013 because she lacked writing experience.
Not willing to accept defeat, she started her Roots Journey blog and spent a year writing, networking and developing social media. She applied again and became a Beck's marketing intern in 2014, working on social media and press releases, including the "Why I Farm Movement."
After the internship ended, she approached Beck's with her wild idea for a road trip. To her delight, Beck's executives loved it and agreed to pay some of her expenses.
Sents left home on May 15, and on May 17 she had a kickoff event in Iowa at the Grant Wood Studio in Cedar Rapids to springboard on the fame of the famous Iowa painting, "American Gothic."
She started the tour with a "giant spreadsheet" of farm contacts in all 50 states, including the first three months "planned down to the minute," with driving times and gas times. She quickly found out that was "a joke," because all of the incidental interruptions and weather disruptions. Since then, she's gotten interview leads and has networked with top contacts, including ag commodity organizations, agritourism groups and state tourism boards.
As of early November, she'd so far visited more than 50 farms, ranging from 5 acres to 5,000 acres. They include fish, tomatoes, blueberries, cherry, peach, nectarine and apple orchards, and mushrooms and a bison farm in Alaska, to name a few. She's also visited wineries, breweries and other specialty agriculture operations.
A little help
Sents is traveling the millennial way. She's been using Airbnb and Couchsurfing to find and rent rooms - an alternative to motels.
Sents expects she'll pass through Iowa about five times during the year, sometimes to make a seasonal change of clothes. She has a boyfriend, who lives in Iowa and is not in agriculture, and social media has helped her keep up with significant events back home.
She interviews subjects for an average of about an hour and a half and supplements that with mostly photos, as well as Facebook Live, Snapchat and Instagram, but she did have a videographer accompany her on her trips to Alaska and Wisconsin.
"My first idea is to let people know that there are farmers in your backyard," she said. "If you go to them, they're more than willing to share their story."
Whether they're big or small, all across the country, people are farming because they're continuing their family legacies - it's their connection to the earth. They feel proud of raising food, and making things grow."
She said farmers are hard-working, and open to visitors if there are no biosecurity issues.
"They're in it for the long haul," even in times of low commodity prices. "I'll know a little bit about a lot of things, but the cool part is the farmers are really the experts and are willing to answer your questions if you ask," she said.
Follow Natalia Sents' trip through #WhyIFarm social media:
• "Why I Farm" on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with photos and quotes;
• "Roots Journey" is her personal blog, with personal reflections about food, travel and agriculture she encounters along the way, including "How I travel out of my car."