Face of agriculture in the Midwest is changing

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November 20th, 2014

Brooklyn, IOWA – Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa is home to more than 1,100 cows, which provide about 100-thousand pounds of milk each day. That many cows means lots of calves.

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These animals are the next generation of milk cows here. And 15-year-old Boelen is in the next generation of farmers. He comes from a long-line of dairymen… in Europe.

Five years ago, his parents sold their farm in the Netherlands and bought this one in Iowa. Dorine Boelen, Teun’s mother, says their farm couldn’t grow where they were.

“We could sell our land to the city, and, because there were no possibilities for us to stay there longer than 20 years, we calculated, and to give them a farming future,” Boelen said.

(Courtesy Photo Grant Blankenship)

(Courtesy Photo Grant Blankenship)

They had money to invest, and that led to green cards. Now, Teun and one of his brothers hope eventually to farm full-time, alongside their parents.

Their immigrant experience is unique— the majority of immigrants arriving in the Midwest today come from Latin America, and most work whatever jobs they can. Their kids often turn away from agriculture.

“I was born in Congo, my parents are from Burundi,” Boelen said.

Pacifique Simon and his family represent yet another path. After fleeing war and living years in refugee camps, six years ago the family received asylum in the United States. They landed in Des Moines with plenty of life experience…and not a lot of cash.

Back in Burundi, the family farmed. Now, thanks to a partnership between Lutheran Services in Iowa and Valley Free Church in West Des Moines, they once again can get their hands in the dirt. They’re even selling some vegetables at a farmers market—alongside other refugee-vendors.

“Yeah, we are so happy about it because we got to produce lot of stuff this year and then we are making good money, too, that’s a good thing, to get like another income,” Simon said.

Simon, who’s 22, enjoys helping in the field. But he can see that his family’s donated plot will never support him. He’s majoring in agricultural systems technology at Iowa State University. He says classmates from farm families have an easier time becoming farmers. But he’s set his sights on an Ag career that includes Africa.

“I want to learn some skill here and then go teach people back there so they can produce enough food to feed their own family,” Simon said.

‘Teun Boelen and his family harken to a past era of Europeans as the dominant newcomers to this region. Pacifique Simon and other African, Asian and, especially, Latin American immigrants will contribute more to the future of farming in the Heartland.

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